Why I’m Going Streaking

I’ll admit it. I’m in a rut. I’ve been able to string together six months of injury-free running (yay!), but have lost my fire. I still work out. I still run. But lately I’ve also skipped workouts for any number of reasons (too tired, too hot, too cold, don’t feel like getting sweaty, just don’t wanna).

As someone who’s been at this for a while, I know that the first step out the door is often the hardest. I like this challenge because I think the suck it up, it’s only a mile voice can drown out my inner whiner until I’m in the groove and actually feel like moving.

So I will run when I am tired, cold, lazy… and remind myself that I can.

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I ran, uh finished, the Boston Marathon

Three weeks before the Boston Marathon, I pulled my calf and considered dropping out. I gave it some rest and TLC and decided that run, walk, or hobble, I wanted to experience the legendary race and take home the hardware. Cue Law and Order voice: In Boston Massachusetts, an injured desert dweller tackles 26.2 miles in the rain. This is her story.

At 3 AM Friday morning, my boyfriends’ parents and I drove to Phoenix to catch our flight to Boston. It was 8 PM when we finally reached our Cambridge apartment. We hit packet pickup and the Expo on Saturday. The finish line area had been set up, and runners swarmed the area. I was starting to get excited.

I knew I wanted to buy some of the official clothing, but the line to the fitting rooms was long. Ross’s mom, Sue, tied our jackets together and shielded me while I changed in a corner. A couple of other women liked the idea, and we took turns in the makeshift changing room. A man said, “Hey, if your arms are getting tired, I’ll hold those jackets.” One of the women rolled her eyes, and said, “My husband.” Note: my suitcase gained eleven pounds on the trip.

We explored the city a little bit on Sunday, and were continually amazed with how friendly everyone was. We struck up several conversations with runners and locals on public transit, in restaurants, and simply around town. People were quick to help us find our way around, point out local treasures, and talk about the race.

I had decided on my race outfit a few weeks ago. I’d been having a lot of issues with thigh chafing, whether or not I used Body Glide, so I decided to wear tri shorts for function and a wpid-20150420_074245.jpgsparkle skirt for form. I had cheap tube socks for makeshift arm warmers, an ill-fitting long-sleeved cotton shirt, and some cheap knit gloves for throwaway clothes. I fashioned a tank top and skirt out of garbage bags to wear on top of everything else. I gave Ross’s parents my light weather-resistant jacket to hand to me on the course. The rain wasn’t supposed to start until the afternoon, and I get pretty warm once I get moving, so I didn’t want to have it unless I needed it.

Race morning dawned cloudy and chilly. Unlike most marathons that started around dawn, my wave wasn’t slated to go off until 10:50. I woke up at 7:00 and had yogurt, granola, fruit, and tea at the apartment.

It was a short walk to the Red Line. We got off at the Park exit, and several buses were lined up ready to transport the runners to Hopkinton. The locals waved as we made our way out of town, and I waved back. I had heard about the legendary crowd support in Boston, and had seen it action several times before running a single step. I chatted with a local runner about the Newton Hills and ate a banana and almond butter on the ride. Rain splashed the front windshield.

The Athlete’s Village covered the grounds a local school. Canopies were set up to shelter the athletes, and there were plenty of tables laden with food and water. I grabbed a mini wpid-20150420_095337.jpgClif Bar and headed toward the port-o-pottie lines. The facilities were plentiful, but so were the runners, and the lines moved slowly. I had time, though, so I wasn’t worried. The excitement and nervous energy were palpable. Music was pumping, and a man in dreadlocks grooved along. I felt like hugging him for putting a smile on my face.

We had to walk .75 miles to reach the starting corrals. Some locals had set up a table and offered Vaseline, hair bands, and a host of other things the racers might need. The throng of bodies provided partial shelter from the wind as the rain misted all around. I was in the first corral of the third wave, and stayed in the back since I wan’t fully healthy. We huddled in the corrals for about ten minutes before we were sent off with the blast (and I do mean blast!) of the gun.

Everyone was corralled according to qualifying times, so the large group moved smoothly. I set off at what felt like an easy pace. The early miles were downhill, and I had been warned to hold back. When I checked my pace and saw mid-eight, I wasn’t sure if I should worry. I felt like it would take more of an effort to slow myself down than to go with the flow. I would run by feel, and I certainly wasn’t pushing.

I had a new, larger handheld bottle with shot bloks and a sunscreen stick tucked into the pouch for quick access. My biceps burned, so I kept switching it back and forth between hands. I felt each extra ounce. Shame on me for not trying it out before race day.

While I was still surrounded by runners, brightly-colored bobbing heads stretched out as far as my eye could see. I knocked off a couple more mid-eightish miles and started to think that the sub-4 hour finish was still a possibility. From time to time, male runners stepped off the course and turned their backs. The song “Whip It” popped into my head. Hydration tables were set up on the right side of the course and then the left, so the runners never had to move too far to reach them. I drank some Gatorade.

After four miles, my injured calf tightened up. I hoped it was just a reaction to the cold weather and would work itself out. Five miles in, tightness turned to pain, and I decided to walk up the next hill. When I started running again, the pain returned. My body was warm by now, and I tossed the garbage bag top. By mile six, the pain had intensified to the point that I knew I had to walk.

Ross’s parents were waiting at the 10K point and they asked me if I wanted my jacket. I was still fairly warm and said no. I told them that I was hurt and would probably be walking a lot. The course would be shut down six hours after the start of the fourth wave. The first six miles were faster than I had planned, but I still had twenty to go. The world record for race walking a marathon was 3:21:54. Time to see what I could do.

The next four miles went by fairly quickly as I was able to hold about a twelve-minute mile pace. Still, it was hard not to get discouraged as hordes of healthy runners flew by. Even though the weather was bad, the course was still lined with spectators who cheered, waved signs, and passed out water and food. There is no need to carry water at Boston.

As I approached Wellesley, I wanted to see if I could pick it up. Bad idea. A stabbing pain shot through my calf, and I was forced to slow down. My right hip flexor was also in agony because it was not used to prolonged bouts of speed walking. I lost it at this point and started bawling. My ragged, gulping sobs were lost in the cacophony. I felt alone and defeated. Every time I heard someone say, “You look great!” I knew they weren’t talking about me. I tried to focus on the beautiful trees and lakes and the Wellesley girls that were waving signs asking for kisses.

I was walking so slowly now that I wasn’t generating much body heat and a chill set in. My legs were in a lot of pain and my pace had slowed to twenty-plus minutes a mile. Far slower than what I needed to make the cutoff. Ross’s parents were supposed to be at the halfway point, and I decided that I’d quit when I saw them. There was so much race left, and I didn’t want to risk being injured for months. I thought about the special Boston Marathon medal display hook that Sue had given me hanging empty, judging me.

Mile 13 came and went with no sign of my support crew. I texted them. Nothing (I later learned they were having their own adventures with inconsistent trains and spotty cell service). All I wanted was to find them so I could get off of my feet and into warm, dry clothes. I texted Ross and Facebook-messaged his sister. As you can see, cold fingers do not type well.

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Ross called. I don’t remember what exactly what he said, but it was great to hear his voice. He encouraged me and said he’d keep trying his parents. My phone, which had been fully charged a few hours ago, was down to 37%, so I said goodbye and switched to airplane mode.

The rain let up a bit, and the slower pace eased my hip flexor pain, so I hobbled on. I thought about my friend Susie, whose twisted spine eventually caused her to hang up her sneakers. I thought about her husband Jon, who had finished an Ironman after being diagnosed with the ALS that eventually took his life. Limping or not, I was doing something they couldn’t. I’d like to say those thoughts immediately strengthened my resolve, but they were just a few of many that ping-ponged around my head.

I didn’t feel the part, but I said aloud, “I am a runner. I am a runner.”

At mile 17, I encountered the famous Newton Hills, which caused searing pain in my calf. I turned the toe of my injured leg at a 90-degree angle, and walk-sidled up the hills. One of the hills was so steep that I thought it had to be Heartbreak, which meant the course would soon flatten out again, but the hills kept on coming. By now, I was mixed in with the run/walkers and the occasional blind runner and guide.

A med tent worker asked if I needed help. When I said I had a calf pull, she told me to go inside. I laid face down on the padded table while a medic massaged my muscle. When she asked if it helped, I said yes. Being off it certainly felt better, but I wasn’t sure how much the massage would help once I started again. No matter. I had a race to finish.

Due to my side-walking, I got a good look at the spectators. I had written my name on my bib, and some people cheered for me personally. I made eye contact with a couple of guys who yelled, “Yeah, Michelle! You’re doing great. You’re awesome!” Something about their energy combined with those New England accents made me start crying. Again. They cheered louder.

I’d been on the course long enough to crave something more substantial than Gatorade and energy chews. A man and his daughter held out a box of cookies. Normally I’d pass because I’d be afraid they wouldn’t digest well, but at my pace, it was a non-issue. I savored the sweet, chocolate-peanuty crunchiness. I took a slice of watermelon from another spectator. Oranges, red licorice, and Swedish Fish were other popular offerings – the Boston Marathon was like a long trick-or-treating session with moisture-wicking costumes.

Since going uphill caused the most strain, I figured the reverse had to be true for the downhills, so I tried running the next one. I remembered reading that sometimes calf problems occur because the legs are too straight, so I adopted a semi-crouched position.

It worked.

I couldn’t reach the speeds I had been hitting at the beginning of the race, but it was an improvement. I felt like Forrest Gump after his leg braces fell off. I could almost hear Tom Hanks say, “I… was… running!”

After mile 20, things flattened out, and I realized I only had 10K to go. I can do this. I walked whenever the road sloped up, but I was on track to finish in less than six hours.

During one of my walk breaks, I saw the dancing dreadlocked man from the Athlete’s Village. His name was Eli and he was from Atlanta.

“I wanted to finish under 3:30, but after mile six everything hurt,” he said, drawing out the eh sound in everything.

“But we’re doing it, we’re going to finish!”

“Yes we are! We ain’t stopping.”

“We’re getting those medals. Tough it out, baby!”

“I tell you, eeeeeeverything hurts, but you’re inspiring me to walk faster.”

“We’ll help each other through. We’ve got this!”

We hung together for about a mile when he told me to go ahead and he’d catch up. Ten minutes later he passed me, looking strong. I didn’t see him again, but I was grateful for the short connection we’s shared.

The rain had started up again, and I sloshed through the cold puddles. Several competitors were wearing plastic rain ponchos and I wished I hadn’t tossed my trash bags. I was still wearing all of the clothes I had planned to throw away, so my crappy cotton shirt would survive to see the beginning of another race. My right toes hurt from slamming into the front of my shoes on so many downhills.

Despite the worsening weather and the fact that it had been over six hours since the elite women had toed the line, several spectators still lined the course. A couple of girls jumped up and down and called my name. The the crowd started chanting “Left on Hereford, right on Boylston,” and I knew my journey was almost complete. Some people banged on drums, and I focused on the pounding rhythm.

Boylston. Finally. There was still over a quarter mile to go, but I could see the finish line. I squat-ran as fast as I could until I passed that final timing mat. My body shook with tears. I’d made it.

Mission accomplished, my brain decided to stop pumping out adrenaline or whatever it had been giving me the last several hours. My raw, aching legs inched along. Since I was no longer exerting myself, I cooled rapidly. There was still a way to walk before I got my medal. A kind volunteer gave me a disposable poncho and tied a mylar blanket around my waist.

More walking. I shivered violently and a volunteer asked if I needed help. “Just show me where to find K in family meeting area.”

She pointed down the road and said, “They’re letting people warm up by sitting in the buses.” Since the bus was much closer than the K, I decided to hobble over.

A few runners were coming out of the bus and the driver said, “You can’t sit here anymore. Warm up in the med tent.”

Our little group walked to the med tent where we were told, “This is for medical treatment. It’s not a warming tent. Go sit in the buses.”

I made my to different a different bus, but got the same story: go to the med tent. At this point, I thought screw it, and headed toward the K area.

A wide-eyed volunteer stopped me and had me sit in a wheelchair while another volunteer gave me some coffee. My hands shook and hot liquid sloshed over the side of the cup and seeped into my already wet gloves. I had gone from a Boston Qualifying runner to quivering invalid in the space of six hours. They pushed me to the K sign, and I saw the Forees. They supported me on the slow walk/subway/walk back the apartment. As I relaxed into a hot bath and sipped a steaming cup of tea, I got a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Garmin data: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/756961394

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If you’d like to read about more Boston experiences and see some on-course pictures, check out The Half Ass Bad Ass, Blessed With Thunder Thighs, and Runs On Syrup.

As tough as my race was, it was nothing compared to what this man endured. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2015/04/21/boston-marathons-final-finisher-an-inspirational-story/

The twenty that wasn’t on the road to Boston

A couple weekends ago, I woke up early, loaded my hydration belt, and headed out for a twenty miler. Even though I prefer shorter races, knowing this was probably my last twenty brought bittersweet feelings. I feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to at the marathon distance. It had taken me three attempts to make it to Boston, and I was looking forward to finishing my journey on Boylston Street.

After some horrendous training runs, things were looking up. I felt stronger on my first twenty than I had on some of the fifteen and sixteen milers. I had ran a fairly hilly half marathon in 1:50:37. I felt pretty good about my amended goal of finishing under 4 hours. Four under four. Nothing motivates like a good slogan 🙂

The temperature was supposed to reach the low nineties that day, but it was a crisp fifty-something when I started. I was moving at a steady, comfortable pace, enjoying the fresh air and the antics of the desert birds. I was almost five miles in when I felt a pain in my left calf. I ran for about twenty more steps, stopped to stretch and rub it, and tried again. It still hurt. I knew from experience that continuing to run could turn an irritation into a full-blown injury, so I decided to turn around and walk home.

For someone who’s been at this a while, five miles isn’t that long of a run. It is, however, a fairly long walk. My brain was going haywire. Would my leg heal in time to run the marathon? Would I have to run-walk it? Walk it? What was the cutoff time anyway? Was I asking for serious injury if I even tried? Damn, damn, DAMN! It seemed like any time I started making progress, BOOM, I smashed into some sort of obstacle or injury. Every time someone ran by I wanted to shout, “I’m a runner, too!

My body had betrayed me. I felt like a broken-down jalopy. One of the reasons I love running is that it makes me feel good about myself. Strong. Capable. Fit. But for the past year and half, running has often reminded me what of what I was no longer able to do. What do you do when your workout makes you feel worse?

It was a rare weekend with nothing on my calendar, so after I got home, I did what your average introvert with a pint of ice cream in the freezer would do: stayed inside, cried a bit, and made a serious dent in my DVR backlog. I also scoured the internet for advice about calf strains. Fortunately, this one wasn’t as painful as my last one and it didn’t hurt to walk. Note: There are two spoonfulls of ice cream left. I’m capable of practicing restraint.

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My goal: Be as healthy as a horse

I decided to try everything and the kitchen sink. My boyfriend’s parents brought over some arnica cream and an ice wrap they used on their horses. I used heat treatments. I wore a compression sleeve for a week (even to work). I bought rocking calf stretchers for home and for work. I got massages from Ross and my marathon stick. After a week of not running, I started run-walking. The muscle barked the first couple of times, but the next few were pain free! I continued to teach my cycle and Pump classes, because they didn’t hurt. Maybe, just maybe, I would be able to do this thing.

Monday night, I wanted to see if I could run 5 miles at a 9-minute pace. I was still holding out hope for that sub-4. The first quarter was on target, and then I noticed that I was getting faster. 8:45 pace, then 8:30, 8:15… Nothing crazy – when I’m healthy. I tried slowing down a little after each lap, but ended up accelerating again. After a mile and a half, I felt a twinge. Stop. Walk. I alternated walking and slow jogging for a couple of laps, and called it a night. It didn’t feel awful, but it didn’t feel right, either.

Some people had given me advice not to run at all until the marathon, but I thought running 26.2 miles on an injured leg after three weeks of nothing didn’t sound wise. I was hoping that these test runs would give me some assurance. Maybe I was the foolish one.

Yesterday, my leg felt slightly pulled. It feels better today, but I’m nervous. If I can’t handle 1.5 miles at a moderate pace, how in the hell am I going to run a marathon? If it were any race other than Boston, I’d bow out and pick a race later in the year. But I want this. I earned this entry, and I honestly don’t want to try and qualify again. That unicorn medal will be mine.

So, I am going. I have a new, blue sparkle skirt for the occasion. My boyfriend’s parents will be my dedicated sherpas. I am going to try and run this thing, or at least run-walk it. Still, I can’t help but feel like a fraud. Does a hobbler belong at an event that celebrates excellence?

But Boston is so much more than a race. Today is the two-year anniversary of the day so many people lost their lives and limbs. This is the place where Katherine (registered as K.V.) Switzer kept on running, even though a race official tried to pull her off the course when women weren’t allowed to race. She said, “I knew, if I quit nobody would believe that women had the capacity to run 26 plus miles.” Thousands of women gratefully follow in her footsteps every year.

The city. The history. The crowd support. For 118 years, people have come Boston to test their mettle, and now it’s my turn.

I am humbled. I am proud. I am scared. I am persistent. I am a runner.

Marathon Training: A Plan That Fits

As I sit here writing, there are 95 days until the Boston Marathon. This will be my fourth time tackling 26.2. In my earlier attempts, I met my goals of: breaking four hours (3:52:10 – Disney World), qualifying for Boston (3:38:41 – Tucson), and qualifying for Boston by enough to actually get in (3:31:32 – Phoenix). I used the Hanson’s plan for my third marathon, and while I was pleased with the results, I decided to try the FIRST plan this time. Despite very different philosophies, both have successfully guided runners to PRs.

The hallmark of the Hanson’s plan is that their long runs top out at 16 miles, while most prescribe 20 or beyond. The Hanson brothers believe that no one workout is that much more important than another, and that extra-long runs compromise the workouts that follow. They have you run six days per week, which includes an interval workout, a marathon goal pace run (up to 10 miles), and the long run. This leaves 3 easy runs of between 3 and 8 miles, wwpid-20150113_221348-1.jpghere the goal is volume and not speed. The plan may not seem too difficult at the outset, but it’s designed to build cumulative fatigue, and the long runs are meant to simulate the last 16 miles of the race, not the first.

Other than a period when I was injured and relegated to the Step Mill and elliptical, I was able to complete most of my workouts and hit the paces more often than not. My body felt good on race day, and while the last few miles weren’t easy, I wasn’t in agony like I had been with the previous marathon. The training, on the other hand, was a different story. I teach four fitness classes a week (three cycling and one strength), and I also like to get at least one additional strength session as well as an outdoor ride and swim in. I taught the whole time, but toward the end, the supplemental workouts fell by the wayside. It was also physically and mentally draining to work a full day, teach class, and then pound out 5 to 8 miles. I wasn’t enjoying my runs.

The FIRST program, named for the Furman (University) Institute of Running and Scientific Training, is built on 3 runs and 2 cross training sessions per week. Each running workout (speed, tempo, long) is to be run at very specific, challenging pace that adherents have called “tough but doable.” Intense cross training further develops the cardiorespiratory system while allowing the running muscles to recover. They recommend swimming, cycling, and/or rowing because of their dissimilarity to running. This allows the athlete to push the key runs faster than in many other plans. Even the long runs aren’t leisurely jogs. For their Boston-Qualifier version of the 3:30 marathon schedule (8 minute miles), the 20-milers start at 9 minute miles and go down to 8 minute miles by the end of the training cycle. Because I enjoy cross training and want to keep teaching my classes, I think the FIRST plan is a better fit for me.

It will be interesting to see how I improve during the next few months. When I started the Hanson’s plan, I had recently run a half marathon PR. These days, once I pass the 10-mile mark, my legs feel like they’ve been repeatedly flogged with a plastic bat and I fall off pace. Therefore, if this race is slower than my last, I can’t necessarily fault the plan. Still, based on my November 10K time and the charts in the book, I could be capable of a 3:30 marathon, which would be a PR. The target paces are nothing I haven’t hit before, but how quickly will I be able to get my endurance back? Two weeks in, the results have been mixed. I’ll keep you posted.

For more information on these plans, check out Hanson’s Marathon Method or Run Less, Run Faster

A Mostly Nice (and slightly naughty) Holiday Season

Ah, the holidays. When sleeves get longer as days get shorter. The hours are crammed with activities and faces are crammed with edible delights. Each year I strive to strike a balance between enjoying what the season has to offer while not throwing healthy habits to the wind. Here’s how I spent the merry month of December.

For the second year, my boyfriend Ross and I competed in the Anthem Holiday Triathlon. It’s a short, beginner-friendly event, and the men and women race separately. It makes for wpid-dsc00657.jpga long morning, but it also provides a rare opportunity for us to cheer each other on and play photographer. It was snowing when we left Flagstaff and raining in Tucson, but overcast and pleasant at the race site.

The swim is a 200-yard serpentine that’s completed twice. This year they started the oldest swimmers first (last year we organized ourselves by swim times), and the pool got congested very quickly. At one point my lane was so clogged that I stood and walked. People were also resting on the walls between laps, so there were a few times I stopped short and changed direction. I hope they change back next year.

It was windy, which made for an interesting bike ride. It was a three-loop course, complete with climbs and descents. I hadn’t ridden my tri bike much lately, so I stayed out of the aero bars when flying downhill and during the narrow and twisty sections of the course. Ross, who is a beast on the bike, stayed in them the whole time. I was passed by three women, and he wasn’t passed at all.  wpid-dsc00700.jpg

The run is a loop, with a short out-and-back part. The first half is a net downhill, which makes it rough toward the end when you’re already tired. Ross had finished his race in 1:05:29, and I figured I’d be about 10 minutes behind him. My time was 1:15:36. It was nice to see his smiling face at the finish line.

We had decided to relax after the race, and booked a Jacuzzi suite. We ended up with three bathtubs: a Jacuzzi tub in the bedroom itself as well as normal tubs in the two bathrooms. Pretty flippin’ fancy.

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A few days before Christmas, I got a special surprise. As I was getting ready for work, I looked out my back window and did a double-take. The weeds that had overtaken the yard during the rainy season were gone, and several herbs, vegetables, and flowers had been planted. Ross and his parents had come by the day before and transformed my backyard into something beautiful. I can’t wait to prepare meals with food from my own garden. It was by far the best Christmas gift that I’ve ever received.

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On Christmas Eve, my friends Keith and Shokofeh, who head up the Tucson Runners Project, hosted a hot chocolate run on Mt Lemmon. It was chilly when we arrived, but the combination of sunshine and uphill running warmed us quickly. We did 6.6 miles with a couple of other friends while stopping for a couple of picture breaks. Afterwards, we hung out for a while and enjoyed treats, views, and conversation.

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One of my blogger friends, Shannan, tagged me in a cookie recipe challenge. I enjoy cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, but I don’t bake that often. In the spirit of my blog, I wanted to make something fairly healthy. I had made black bean brownies in the past, and wanted to see if I could find a bean-based cookie recipe. Google showed me how to make peanut butter chocolate chip cookies with garbanzo beans.

Here are the modifications I made to the basic recipe. I used sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter because it’s a little easier to stir and is already slightly sweet. I replaced half of the honey with liquid stevia, and found the cookies to be sweet but not overpoweringly so. I also multiplied everything by 1.5 to use the full can of wpid-2014-12-30-14.07.02.png.pnggarbanzos. The recipe warned against doubling because it could ruin the blender, but my Ninja Prep Pro handled it with ease. The batter was tasty, and with no eggs, I didn’t have to worry about eating it raw. Confession: I have eaten raw batter that contains eggs. Just one of the ways I live on the edge.

The cookies were a little soft after ten minutes, so I baked them for another two. It didn’t change the texture much, and I decided to stop there rather than risk burning them. The outsides had a hint of normal crisp-cookie texture, but the insides were very soft. I prefer a soft cookie, though, so it wasn’t a big deal. They were delicious and not beany at all. The original recipe is gluten free, and can easily be made vegan and/or sugar free. I would definitely make them again.

My holidays weren’t all exercise and bean cookies, though. I did enjoy some cheesecake, brownies, and chocolate treats. The evil geniuses at Trader Joe’s hooked me with their Taste Test of Caramels. Indulgence meets guessing game? You win this time, TJ’s.

It’s been a wonderful holiday season, and I am grateful for all of the friends and family that I got to celebrate with. I am enjoying some time off work, while I catch up on some R & R and much needed housework. Marathon training has also begun.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to seeing what 2015 brings.

Of course it’s effin’ hard!

I am training for a marathon using the Hanson’s method, and am running more miles and more frequently than ever before. The program is designed to develop cumulative fatigue, and while the longest runs top off at 16 miles, they are meant to simulate the last 16 miles of the race, not the first. 

I was about five miles into a nine-mile goal pace run one morning when I really wanted to slow down. My mind whined, this is haaaard. All of a sudden, something I had read on a triathlon forum popped into my head: Of course it’s effin’ hard. It’s IRONMAN. While I have never trained for an Ironman (and probably never will), I had a “Well, duh!” moment right there.

Marathon training isn’t supposed to be easy. Running a marathon isn’t easy. Neither is any physical endeavor where you are pushing your body beyond where it wants to go. To a person trying to get in shape after years of sedentary life, running to the end of the street is effin’ hard. No matter how fit you are and how much you might love to exercise, there are days when it’s a struggle just to get out the door.

Anyone who decides to tackle a goal knows from the outset there will be a struggles, but the buoyancy of untested enthusiasm can obscure that fact. Once a person is down in the trenches dealing with the nitty-gritty tasks at hand, however, it’s easy to lose sight of why this crazy thing ever seemed like a good idea. A decision must be made whether or not to press on, sometimes multiple times a day. But while the prize is obtained at the end, the true treasure is often found during the journey.

So, I forged ahead with a bit of a smile on my face and finished the workout strong. I have a few more tough training weeks before taper time, and I plan to carry this mindset to the end. Every effin’ step.

Life is pain

Because the “Hard is what makes great.” quote from A League of Their Own would have been too obvious.

Sun Run 10(+)K

Racing season begins! I have a lighter than usual schedule planned leading up to my March marathon, but I can’t swear off completely. I had been really excited to run this race. It seems that 10Ks aren’t very common these days and my 10K PR is out of line with my 5K and half marathon times. I have run this race several times, and while the course is flat and the weather is cool, it falls at a time of year after I have either eased up on my training or recently run a marathon. This year, however, I would be in the middle of a marathon build, which I thought just might translate into a great race.

Unfortunately, I had been battling a calf injury the past couple months. Several of my runs had been replaced with elliptical and step mill sessions and I hadn’t gone faster than a nine-minute mile pace in weeks. I had been feeling good lately, though, so I was ready to come out and see what I could do. Within reason, of course. What kind of pace my body would let me run and, more importantly, hold?

It had been two and a half months since my last SAR race, and it was good to see Imagefamiliar faces. This race is several years old, but the course gets tweaked constantly. While it was a little chilly when I arrived, I shed almost all of my layers by the 9 o’clock start. Bright, sunny, and cool, you could not ask for more perfect running weather. I did an easy warm-up mile and then headed to the start. There was a 5K option that started slightly earlier at a different part of the park, and those runners dashed by just before we were set loose.

I took off at what felt like a good pace and was pleasantly surprised when I clocked my first mile in 7:07. My PR pace was 7:05. Maybe I can do this, I thought and I tried to run a little faster. My calf was a non-issue. As I felt the familiar burn in my legs and lungs, my mental DJ briefly considered Rob Base’s “Joy and Pain”, but then settled on “It Takes Two“. I don’t know all the words, but there is a profane reference to a popular fast food burger. At least the energy level was about what I was looking for.

Former Ragnar teammate Steve F. was ahead of me but in sight. Another Ragnar teammate, Steve O., passed me, but I tried to keep fairly close. I went back and forth with a big guy in a navy tank top a few times. My next splits were 7:11, 7:19, 7:04. I knew I probably wasn’t going to PR, so I adjusted my goal to finish under 45 minutes. Part of the 10K course looped back on itself and it was here that local legend and Olympic Trials runner Craig Curley passed me. I finally pulled away from navy tank. We also started mingling with some of the 5K runners and I could no longer see the Steves. I was now fixated on the song ImagePropane Nightmares as it repeatedly growled, bring it on home.

I came upon a fork I had run by before, and there was a chalk 10K on the road with an arrow pointing straight – the same way I had gone last time. I had run 5.8 miles and thought that if I followed the arrow, the finish line had to be farther away than .4 miles away. Still, I wasn’t sure and there was no instruction to go a different way the second time through, so I went straight. When my watch hit six without a six-mile marker or the finish line anywhere in sight, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. My friend Keith, who had been done for a little while took a picture and cheered me on while I yelled something like “I went too far!”

My detour had me approaching the finish line from the wrong side, so I cut through the crowd to U-turn into the chute. I figured if anyone said anything, I would point to the 7+ miles displayed on my Garmin. Or just be DQ’ed and be done with it. I was annoyed and in some ways glad that I hadn’t been on the verge of a PR. I know an athlete should know the course, but on the other hand, during a race, I don’t always think clearly.

I ran a few cool down miles with some friends and hung out for a while. One of my friends pointed to a couple of men who were approaching the finish line, one leading the other with a strap. A blind man was running the race. Instant perspective. We all cheered loudly for them.

All in all, it was a great day. I was happy with my 7:14 pace and my calf felt fine. I also felt confident that I would be able to run my marathon without a problem as long as I didn’t go crazy with speed or hills, which my plan doesn’t call for anyway.

Race Data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/429034450

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I wish I remembered what we were talking about here.

2013 Year In Review

Last year my goals were:

  1. Break 21 in the 5K
  2. Complete a Half Ironman
  3. Start a blog and average a post a week.

I got the 5K result I wanted and also set PRs in the following events. I did not PR in the marathon because I decided to take a break from that distance in 2013.

Distance Old PR New PR
5K 21:25 20:43
5 Mile 36:08 35:03
10K 45:37 44:01
Half Marathon 1:40:03 1:37:24
Sprint Triathlon 1:13:55 1:11:43
Olympic Triathlon 2:44:57 2:36:31

I completed my Half Ironman in 5:49:42, which was under my goal of 6 hours. I think in the future I would be capable of 5:30, if I am better about getting long rides in.

I ended the year with… 51 blog posts. I thought about throwing something together during the waning moments of the year to reach 52, but I had other things going on and also needed some mental downtime. So, the Type-B side of my personality won that battle.

I have received so many positive things from having this blog. Something that I did not foresee was an opportunity to write three articles for the local publication Tailwinds. It was a thrill to see my name in print and be paid for my words. I am pretty small potatoes in the blogosphere view-wise, but I have met some DSC00506great people and received from really nice messages from readers. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the thoughts that I push out into cyberspace have helped or inspired people in some way. For the record, my most popular post by far was Becoming A Body Pump Instructor. I am glad that Les Mills classes are so popular. 

I also logged all of my workouts last year for the first time ever. I think I owe my PRs to that 25 minutes of yoga 🙂 The bike mileage may look a bit off, but that’s because I log a lot of my cycle time teaching classes indoors.

2013Totals

For this new year, I only have one solid goal so far: to run a marathon in under 3:30 (I am training for 3:25, but I’d be happy with 3:30). A couple months after that is my typical spring A Race, the Tucson 5000, where I’d love to break 20 minutes in the 5K. Based on past marathon recovery experience, however, I won’t stress about it. As for the fall, I am not sure yet. Take another crack at a Half Ironman? Try to break 2:30 in an Olympic triathlon? My 10K PR is also a bit of an outlier, so maybe I will look for a flat destination race.

Here’s to a fit, fast, and healthy 2014!

Songs That Go the Distance

It’s that time of the marathon training schedule when the long runs are starting to show up. Even though I am doing the Hanson’s Plan and my long runs top out at 16 miles, that’s still about two and a half hours of me and the pavement. For shorter and faster workouts, I like energetic music, but when I’m going long, my tastes change. It’s all about smoothness, and for lack of a better word, flow. Some of it is darnright mellow. Here are some of the songs that I lose myself in.

I have been getting into trance music lately and think it’s great for running. This song travels through a lot of different sounds and moods. The introduction makes me feel like something grand is about to happen.

Hypnotic instrumental opener that draws me into a mental place where everything is about the here and now. And that everything sounds better, looks brighter, and feels… better.

Trancy instrumental that makes me feel like the world is wide open and there for my taking.

One more trance selection. Nice, quick, light cadence, it sounds like running on the road. As the vocals and guitar work their way in and the song progresses, my feet may still be on the ground but my spirit soars through the air.

Throwback to my high school tastes. This song has smooth and flowing by the bucketload. I imagine I am gliding over the road without a care in the world.

Super mellow and introspective. And great for when I do my long runs in the dark.

Oh, now that I’m talking about the dark, I have to mention this song. More trance! Those synthy parts just make me want to move.

So smooth and no one does guitar like Pink Floyd. And aren’t all of us runners just a bunch of earth-bound misfits?

Sometimes you just have to get literal. Hey, it’s what we do every time we head out the door 🙂 I could only find the live version on Youtube. For the album version, go here.

Do you like to run with music? Do you tailor your playlist based on the type of workout? What are some of your favorites?

Hotshots Run To Remember (and unofficial reverse duathlon)

During the summer, 19 Arizona firefighters tragically lost their lives fighting the Yarnell Fire, and the Hotshots Run To Remember And Never Forget was created to honor their memory and raise funds for their families. It’s modeled after the Dipsea Race, where runners are started at different times based on age and gender so the faster runners chase the (theoretically, at least) slower ones. The first runners get a 25-minute head start and subsequent groups start at 1-minute intervals. My station in life garnered me an 8-minute advantage. The first 19 finishers would be awarded with numbered T-shirts, and the first to cross the line would receive a beautiful fireman’s axe.

I really needed to get some bike miles in for my upcoming Half Ironman, and because the road to the race has wide bike lanes and few lights, I decided to pedal there. I figured the ride would take me about an hour, so I set my alarm for 4:40. It was still dark when I left, but I had just bought a sweet 500-lumen lamp and was ready for it. The air was thick with humidity.

Going was slow, and I blamed sluggish morning legs. The sky turned a gray-blue as I rode and it was very peaceful. I had packed my running shoes and clothes in a drawstring backpack and it kept shifting to the side, which was a little annoying. There were a couple of stranded bikers on the side of the road a few miles from the park. They asked if I had a spare CO2 cartridge and a patch. This was not their first flat of the day and they had run out. Fortunately, I was able to help and that made me feel extra good about my decision to bike to the race. It took me 1:12:51 to reach the race site (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/372050073), but I still had time to get my number, change into my running clothes and shoes, and suck down a Clif Shot.

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I would be starting at the same time as my friend Amy. Both of us were treating this race as a training run. Then I noticed that she had some Mace attached to her hydration vest. She said it was in case she ran into any hostile critters, but I think she might have been planning to take out the competition…  🙂 The race director kept calling for the different start groups, and most of them were pretty small until it was our turn.

From the start, it felt like I was left in the dust. Enough time had passed since my ride that I didn’t have the rubber-legged feeling I get during a triathlon, but I was definitely feeling its effect. On the plus side, it was still cloudy and there was a nice, refreshing rain. The early part of the race was paved but hilly. There was a working ranch nearby, and the scent of horse hung in the air. The first two miles were run at about 8 minutes a piece, and I was happy with that. Amy was long gone, though. As I ran by one woman she said, “I go to your Body Pump class.” I didn’t recognize her, but it was a fairly large class and it seemed like a lot of the faces change from week to week. It’s silly, but I felt like since I was the instructor that I should be faster.

The staggered start made the passing situation interesting: I was able to pass some people easily and other people were dropping me like a hot potato. My mental DJ was in a cultural mood and had selected Triumphal March from Verdi’s opera Aida for this morning’s festivities.

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Soon it was trail time. I had worn my Saucony Mirages because they were the most stable shoes I owned, but they weren’t really suited for trail running. Parts of the trail were fairly smooth, but in other places several rocks jutted out of the ground. I hit a few of them awkwardly and my ankles yipped but didn’t buckle. I soaked in the surroundings. The musky scent of skunk lingered in the air. In some places, the dirt was a beautiful red color. The skies brought Newton Faulkner’s song “Clouds” to mind.

Stop looking down at the ground
Pick it out of the clouds
No one’s gonna put you down
Just let it out let it out

With the staggered starts, some obviously faster runners came up behind me, and because it was a single-file trail, I had to step to the side and let them pass. It was an interesting challenge to constantly keep adjusting my pace and foot placement, but I am a road racer at heart. I didn’t want to run too fast and risk a fall. The silly, egotistical side of me wished that I had a sign on my back that said “Hey! You do realize I rode my bike here, don’t you?”

A little after the six-mile mark, there was a dramatic steep and rocky climb, and I did something that I don’t think I’ve done in a race since I was in junior high: walk. Post-race reconnaissance revealed that I wasn’t the only one. When I finally reached the top, there was less than a mile remaining. I heard footfalls behind me and this time the Body Pump lady passed. At this point, I was feeling confined by the trail and wishing for an open stretch of road where I could just run the pace I felt like running. It was trail until the end, though, so there was no finishing kick. I ended up finishing 30th taking the handicap start into account and 29th based on raw time. Amy was 16th, and my friends Keith (3) and Steve (10) also finished in the top 19.

Run data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/372050091

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I ate a banana and a Honey Stinger Waffle to fuel up for the ride home. I hadn’t tried the vanilla flavor before and it was outstanding. I hung around for a while and actually started to feel chilly. In Tucson. In September. The ride home was enjoyable and much quicker (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/372050102). It was still cool and there were some large, beautiful white flowers on the side of the road that I hadn’t noticed in the dark. All in all, it was a great morning. While I wasn’t fast, I got a heck of a workout and probably saved a gallon of gas.