Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Make My Heart Race...With Pictures!

***if you are new here, and have no idea what this is going to be about you have two intelligent choices:

a) Leave Now.
b) Start here, then work your way back, m'kay?

On the eve of a big, life changing event, everyone seems to want to tell you to get some rest. "Get a good night's sleep" they say. "Good to bed nice and early" they urge. Really? Does anybody really manage to just drift, peacefully off to sleep, waking refreshed and bright eyed the next day? Because I? Will invariably toss and turn, heart thumping loudly, head racing, full steam ahead and try to will myself asleep.

The night before the race was no exception.

We woke (or rather, gave up the pretense of being asleep) at the crack of dawn, and started pulling on our race day ensembles.

Nike running tights - check
Long sleeved white technical t-shirt - check
Heather blue fleecy hooded running sweatshirt (fresh from Target, mere hours before) - check
Balega socks - check
Newton Gravity shoes with timing chip in the laces - check
Twin Cities Marathon headband - check
Running Bib - check
Gloves - check
Garish blue lensed sunnies - check

We pulled together some clothes to change into after the race, to put in the sweats drop bag, grabbed some other sundry items then loaded up into the car. The sun wouldn't be up for hours.

My partner in crime was lending my husband his bike, so that he might bike the course and play paparazzi along the route. We drove into Minneapolis, and dropped him off a few blocks from the Metrodome, where we would be meeting up before the race, and taking off from.

As he got out of the car, a sickening sense of panic rolled over me, as the reality of what was happening in just a few short hours jumped up in front of me and pointed in laughed. Holy shit...holy shit...holy shit.

I mustered every last bit of nonchalance I possessed and pretended that it was no big thing, and casually said "See ya in a bit."

My P.I.C. and I at the Metrodome. Pre-race.

Having deposited him into the heart of the city, we continued on to St. Paul, where we would park the car and catch a bus back to the metrodome.

We tried small talking, but honestly, I haven't the slightest idea what was said. My mind was too busy casting desperately about for clues that this was really just a convoluted dream and that this wasn't really happening right now.

We parked, and walked over to catch our bus...and old style school bus, that was bursting at the seams with antsy runners. I was freezing, even bundled up as I was. Looking around, I saw folks that were even more warmly clothed than I was as well as people who looked like they were headed to the beach. I was amazed at the contrast.

After a short, loud ride, we wandered, lemming style, into the metrodome, and began wandering about aimlessly. My husband found us shortly after, and I felt myself relax.

Outside, headed for the corral.

Before I knew what had happened, it was time to line up in our corrals. Because this was my first ever race, and I did not have an official finish time, I would be in corral 3. Home of the slowest racers and the unknowns. This would also mean that we would be the last to leave. We would get to hear all of the announcements...we would see all of the other runners leave...we would see the odd clothing explosion that happened, right before people taking off.

There was absolutely no turning back now.

Moments later, we would be crossing the starting pad, and officially running a marathon. I looked at my partner in crime, smiled and waved one last time, and took off on my own. (We run at vastly different paces, so this was a foregone conclusion.)

The moment I crossed over that pad, all of the cares and worries I had been hanging on to about this race just sort of floated away. Rigth from the first step, there was an enormous crowd cheering and waving. It was almost intoxicating. I felt myself grinning and could barely contain my excitement.

The first part of our course was right through downtown Minneapolis. After all the months and miles logged on country roads, lined with cornfields and cows, to be running down a road in a major metropolitan area was crazy. Sure I had run in the city in Lousiville, but that was on the sidewalk. This? Was an entirely different animal.

An announcement had been made, early on, that there were 25 "Medtronic Heroes" running the race. To wit, these were individuals that were actually pacemaker patients, sporting Medtronic pacemekers. Each of them was identifiable by a special shirt, with a big white star on it. As I was running the first 1/4 mile or so of the race, I saw one of the stars up ahead of me. I( was excited to see e of these heroes, and made my way up and over to him. Just as I did, he fell, face down on the pavement, and started writhing about.

My blood ran cold and I think my own heart may have considered stopping.

I stopped, unsure what to do, but was immediately urged on by what seemed like a whole platoon of medical staff.

I hesitated a second longer, then obediently continued on my way and was quickly swept up again in the euphoria that was being dished out by the crowds.

Minneapolis is a beautiful city, and we were on nice, wide streets. I was very thankful for this, because it meant I had plenty of room to dodge and weave through other runners. I tried to resist the urge to speed pass a huge crowd, only to have them later overtake me, and instead just find my comfortable pace, and pass when needed. The only problem with this was that, especially in the beginning, the race was a bit claustrophobic. I felt almost trapped, with people all around me. Slowly, steadily I found small openings and made my way around slower runners. Each time I passed someone I wondered, "Will I see you again later? Will you be passing me?"

In the groove.

The first couple of miles were a blur. We ran from the downtown area out into a more residential neighborhood. The streets were still lined with excited spectators, amny bearing signs with funny or encouraging phrases on them. I scanned through the masses, wondering when and where I would see my husband, but just kept happily gliding along.

On a typical run, I don't bring water with me, unless I am going at least 5 miles. The race offered plentiful water/Powerade stations to provide you with hydration. When I came to the first of these, I made a decision then and there that I would grab something to drink at every stop. A grabbed a cup, from an eager volunteer and immediately realized that I, picture of grace and elegance that I am, am in no way capable of drinking out of an open cup while running, without coating myself in liquid. And so a second, equally important decision was reached. I walked while I drank from the cup.

Soon we were outside of the city proper, and making our way to  the first of the lakes that we would run along. There was a small incline, nothing compared to the hills I run at home, but an uphill nontheless. I suddenly felt like a gazelle or something, as people started petering out and complaining about the hill, as I bounded around them. This? This wasn't a hill. This was barely a speedbump. This was my wheelhouse.

First spotting my husband!
It was cold and crisp out. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the sun was shining on the water. Fall leaves would catch on the breezes and rain down on us, like golden raindrops and I again wondered whether I was dreaming it.

Finally I caught sight of my husband and I was so excited that I felt like a kid a Christmas. Camera at the ready, he started snapping away and telling me how proud he was. I felt unstoppable!

According to my plan, I drank at each stop and walked, for my own safety as well as that of the other runners around me, while I drank.

Along the way the crowds cheered, rang bells, held up signs and kept your attention. There were bands and deejays and even a group of bagpipers playing. Kids and grownups lined the route, with their hands held out, just wanting to give you a high five. In this race, everyone was a superstar, and everyone had a huge fan club, clamoring for their attention.

I  was doubly blessed. Because I also had one extremely devoted fan that met me, every mile or so, and gave me encouraging words and a beaming smile.

Warming up now...

As the race wore on, I finally started to warm up. I removed my gloves and handed them off to my husband.

A short while later, my headband came off.

Finally, a good long way into the race, I was done with the outer shirt. It wasn't until that exact moment, as I peeled off that shirt, that I remembered that my Nike watch had been running the whole time, sandwiched between the layers. I looked down for the first time and noticed two things:

First: The distance on the watch was a few tenths of a mile further than the mile marker flags seemed to indicate. This puzzled and frustrated me to no end, but I decided not to obsess. (I would figure out later that it was not the watch being was me underestimating the extra mileage that bobbing and weaving through other runners will add to the route. By the time all was said and done, my marathon was closer to 27 miles than 36)

Second: My average pace was 9 minutes.

No. Freaking. Way.

Even with the walking at each drink stop? That seemed crazy.

As we approached the 17th mile, I knew that a little energy boost, in the form of a Cliff Shot would be awaiting me. I walked while I ate it, then grabbed a drink and kept walking. My husband joined me for a bit. walking on the sidewalk next to me, and we chatted briefly. Finally it was time for me to take off again.

As I passed that 17th mile I had the amazing realization dawn on me that I now was into the single digits...less than 10 miles remained. I could totally pull this off!

Starting around the 20th mile, my hips started to ache a little bit. As I continued on, the aching turned into a steady pain and finally was punctuated by small spasms of sharp pain. At mile 23, I finally relented and started to walk a bit more.

In those last few miles, I saw more entertaining sights...bounce houses and inflatable slides...tables with cups of beer set up for runners to grab - but only for the "quitters". The more "seasoned" runners would actually leave the course, hop on the slide and then get back on the course. This pleased the spectators to no end, and amused me greatly.

Hi honey!
Finally I hit the 25th mile, and decided that this was it. I was running from here on out. Just 2 more songs from my play list, and I would be crossing the finish line. I could do two more songs, no problem.

As I cruised towards the finish line, I could see the capital building. The street was lined with people, and a big red and orange"finish" sign stood boldy across the road. There were grandstands and cameras flashing. I'm not sure how, but I managed to find my husband in that sea of faces, just before I crossed the finish line.

 I had done it. 4:26:43 (Pay no attention to the clock...that's not my official time)

They gave me a medal and *everything*

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

You've Got Some Nerve

***if you are new here, and have no idea what this is going to be about you have two intelligent choices:

a) Leave Now.
b) Start here, then work your way back, m'kay?

As a professional worry wart, there are few things in life that I excel at more than stressing about things over which I have no control. And all of this artisan level stressing tends to manifest itself in fun and original ways. Such as waking up the morning before we were to board a plane for Minnesota unable to turn my head to either side. Wheeeee!

My neck was so sore in fact, that I opted out of my run and instead decided to commit myself to fretting over it.

The day morning saw very little improvement, but with an exam in the morning, work in the midday and a flight in the afternoon, I hardly had time to indulge in a full blown case of the "what-if's?".

Our flight went off without a hitch - which in and of itself is nothing shy of a minor miracle. I am blessed you see, with the "bad travel karma"...a fact which I will someday tackle in a separate post...once I have determined that I never want anyone to travel with me ever again. Because after reading the litany of travel woes I have amassed over the years, I can all but guarantee that none of you will be accompanying me anywhere. Ever.

My partner in crime met us at the airport, and exhilarated but exhausted, we made our way back to his home. We had a full schedule of activities lined up, to keep us (both expert worriers) from fixating on what was about to happen, and shutting down completely. (Ok, maybe that part was just me.)

On Friday we woke up bright and early, donned some cold weather running gear, and went for a 20 minute trot through the neighborhood. Almost instantly my neck felt better, and my spirits were buoyed.

Once we got back and got cleaned up, we went to the Mall of America. Which was completely overwhelming. It was like going to the Cheesecake Factory when you are starving, and trying to navigate their epic novel sized menu. You just don't know where to start.

We decided to track down the Lululemon store, so that I could meet the object of my affection, and see if she was as awesome in person as she appeared to be online. (You know how online dating shopping isn't all that different...) I was already most of the way to head over heels in love with the Pacesetter, before I ever set eyes on it. After trying her on, I had to resist the urge to look at her and tell her that she completed me.

Even still, I was able to rationalize myself out of purchasing it, as we had already come to the conclusion that it would be way too cold to wear it for the marathon. So Santa? If you're listening....

Later on that day we went to the St. Paul River Center, to check in for the we were handed our bags, with our bibs and chips and such, a sudden wave of euphoria passed over me. I looked around at the crowds milling about and wondered how many of them I would see along the road just two days later.

We took some time, on our way home, to drive a good portion of the route that the race was to take. As a planner, I needed this, to soothe my jangly nerves...I have come to learn one simple fact about myself: if I have a sense of the route ahead of time? I do much better running it. I am less hesitant, less timid, less cautious and more likely to just run it.

We woke up Saturday to colder weather than the day before and the dawning realization that, for all my obsessive planning, there was no way that I was going to be warm enough in the clothing that I brought for the race. After agonizing over the decision for the better part of the day, I finally decided to bite the bullet, throw caution to the wind and buy a new top to wear the day of the race. The risk of having something rub or chafe was outweighed by the allure of not freezing my tits off. (Yes, I said that. Deal.)

I also made the decision to ditch the compression capris in favor of the warmer Nike running tights. The same one's I had worn the morning before for our run. Thankfully, since we were staying at my partner in crime's home, we had access to laundry facilities.

My husband put all of the gear in and washed it.

Later that night, after a hearty, carb heavy pasta meal I tried on my race day outfit. And all hell broke loose.

The top? The brand new top that we had just purchased, earlier that day? Didn't fit.

The sleeves were too short. (Fun fact...I have monkey arms. Seriously. That my knuckles don't scrape the ground is a minor miracle. They match my legs. If my limbs were in proportion to my torso? I'd be about 5'2". If my torso was in proportion to my limbs? I'd be about 5'10". As it stands, I am 5'6"...or as my husband likes to say "5'5" and a hair clip".)

Because my husband is chock full of the awesome, he ran out, at 9PM, in Minnesota, and got me a new shirt, one size larger. He brought it back to me, I tried it on, and heaved a sigh of relief.

Having caught and dealt with that last monkey wrench, I attempted to settle in for some sleep...and so fitfully tossed and turned until about 4AM, just in time to get up, and become a marathoner.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Devil Is In the Details...

***if you are new here, and have no idea what this is going to be about you have two intelligent choices:

a) Leave Now.
b) Start here, then work your way back, m'kay?

I have a thing for details. I like to obsess over them. Obsessively.
In the weeks leading up to the marathon, I obsessed like a BOSS. I read articles, I polled the audience (aka Twitter), I re-read articles and consulted my plan at least 2-3 times a day…just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything. I would be damned if this marathon dream didn’t come true because I had blindly overlooked some devastatingly minute detail like what color shoelaces are the most aerodynamic.

Truth be told though, I am glad that I put the time in. Ask any of the running gurus – or don’t ask…just follow them on Twitter, they are bound to dole out all sorts of advice and axioms about this shit – and they will tell you that a marathon is just as much a mental race as it is a physical one. So you need to train your brain. Or something like that. To be fair, there is a lot to think about. In no particular order, these were the things that captured the lion’s share of my waking thoughts in regard to the race:

1 – What was I going to wear?

2 – Would my iPhone battery be capable of getting me all of the way through the marathon?

3 – What should I wear?

4 – Should I try and eat something before the race?


Priorities man, I has them!

Seriously though, focusing on these things helped me to not focus too much on ohmydeargodhowthehellamigoingtorun26.2miles?!?!?!?! And the thing is, lots and lots of the advice out there centered on these issues. And the one, overarching sentiment that is expressed again and again is “Don’t try anything new on race day.” This applies to food, drink, clothes and form. Everywhere I turned, I was hearing that I should be sure to give whatever I planned to wear at least one good, solid dress rehearsal. All of the experts insisted that I eat what I usually ate.

As for the phone? Not so much with the guidance…but I figured I could work something out.

In the name of fiscal responsibility, I planned to pull my race day outfit from the running clothes that already dominate my wardrobe. Not knowing what the weather was going to be like threw me for a bit of a loop, so I was trying to work two angles - a shorts/warm weather option, and a "Nanook of the North" look as well. I tried out some of my favorite shorts for some of my longer runs, only to determine that they did not make the cut.

Now, perhaps at one point in time they might have. I do know that I hadn't necessarily ever paid attention to the washing instructions, so the "wicking failure" experienced in the Reeboks might have been based upon the fabric breaking down from too much heart in the drying process. Additionally, the Nike's had been purchased fairly early on in this odyssey, when I was still wearing a size 12. By this point in my training, I had already crossed over into the small 6/large 4 range, so there is a fiar chance that a smaller size might not have bunched and chafed so.

After the 20 mile run, we ran out and picked up several different styles of compression shorst for me to try out. While cute, and not uncomfortable for a shorter run, each and everyone of them would creep up and leave me feeling like I was running in a pair of bikini bottoms...which my husband may have nejoyed, but I felt was something of a crime against humanity.

The race kept getting closer, and I was running out of long runs to try out stress level over this started to reach a frenzied pitch.

I made an appeal to Twitter, and asked folks what they liked to wear. The only sartorial item that received a plug was the Lululemon Pacesetter running skirt.

I Googled it.

I fell IN LOVE.

It was gorgeous. Cute, with ruffles in the back, and compression shorts underneath that have a band designed to prevent them from riding up? Yes, please!

Unfortunately, they are a bit spendy. And we have no Lululemon locally. (Imagine high end fitness apparel store in Amish country? Whodathunkit?) I was leery of shelling out that kind of money for something I couldn't see and try on ahead of time. What size would I be? Would they actually work? Could I rationalize getting not just the skirt, but also a pair of cool knee high compression socks, so that i could totally rock the whole "school girl" look??

In the end, I resisted the temptation, and turned back to what was in my closet. And picked up right where I had left off, in the panicky obsessing.

The upshot is, that the closer we got to race day, the better of an idea we had of what the weather would be like that day. The downside is, that the closer it got, the more it seemed it was going to be a tad on the chilly side.

I finally settled on a long sleeve technical shirt, a favorite running bra and a pair of knee length compression pants.

The worry wart in me (read: most of me) insisted that I also pack a few other, warmer pairs of running tights,  just in case.

Bags fully packed, we took off for MN and hoped for the best.

Friday, October 26, 2012

In the Long Run

***if you are new here, and have no idea what this is going to be about you have two intelligent choices:

a) Leave Now.

b) Start here, then work your way back, m'kay?

Once I crossed over into the double digit runs, and interesting thing started to happen. Shit began to fall apart.

I ran 10 miles, came home exhausted, but pleased.

The day of my 12 mile run, things didn’t go near as smoothly. I hit mile 10, struggled through mile 11, and then hit a wall. I walked up a hill and then trotted, ever so slowly, the rest of the way home. I was out of water, I was tired, I was crampy and I was on the verge of tears. It was the first time I had given in and walked in my whole training plan and frankly, I felt like a failure for not having run 100% of the course.

Thankfully my husband gave me the good old fashioned tongue lashing and reality check that I so desperately needed at that point, and we came up with a smarter plan of attack for the next run. We had noticed that 10 miles seemed to be my absolute outer limit of energy. As an early morning runner, it is my habit to run “on an empty tank.” That is to say, I don’t eat before I go. We planned out my 14 mile course, and decided that my husband, my “pit crew”, would meet me at the 10 mile mark, and give me fresh water and some sort of energy food, be it GU or power beans or something…

The day of my 14 mile run came, and I set out, trusty little water bottle in hand. As had been my custom, I conservatively only took a sip or so every mile. Around mile 8.5 or 9, I started to cramp, but just ran through the pain. It wasn’t until about mile 9.5 that I downed the rest of my bottle, knowing that help was on the way. I noticed, almost immediately, that the stitch in my side disappeared almost immediately. A minor lightbulb moment, as I realized that the cramping? Was dehydration. I hadn’t been drinking enough, out of fear that it would make me have to pee. (Is that TMI? Do I care?)

Anyway, I made it beyond the 12 mile mark, and actually to full half marathon distance, before taking a few walking steps. I allowed myself to walk up a hill, and arrived back home feeling much better than I had after the 12, and much happier with myself.

And then 16 happened.

A few things to note about the day of my 16 mile run. We were on vacation, in south Florida. I had pumped myself up for this run, plotting out a course that kept me along the beach or the intracoastal for almost the entire distance. I kept thinking “ooo, flat!! This’ll be easy!” and “ocean breezes! It won’t be too hot!!!” Incidentally, my husband’s half marathon plan called for him to run a 6 mile course, so we could actually run the first part of the run together. We stocked up on water bottles, planned out pit stops, to give me fresh water, bought power beans for me to eat along the way and were generally cocky about the whole thing.

Go ahead, finish laughing. I’ll wait.

To say that things did not go well would be an understatement.

It was hot. DAMNED hot. And humid.

Ocean breezes are a MYTH. And apparently? No such thing as intracoastal breezes.

Running with my husband always prompts me to run faster. Which is generally a good thing. He is a much faster runner than I am, but I can hold my pace for a lot longer…for now. But not when it means that the first miles of a long run are clocked in at a pace well above what is normal for you.

Flat is not better. At least not if you are used to running on hills.

The energy beans didn’t enjoy their brief stay in my stomach, and checked out on someone’s front lawn.

All told, I drank 48oz of water and only managed to run just shy of 15 miles. And honestly, I walked probably a third of those miles. It. Was. Miserable.

We chalked it up to environment and me starting off too fast, which burned me out too early.

We came back to PA, and I shook it off, and focused on the next big run, which was 2 weeks away: 18 miles.

At this point, I started really obsessing about wardrobe. (I know! So unlike me, right?? ;))The problem was, MN in October? Kind of unpredictable. The day before we landed? In the lower 80’s. The morning of the race? 29 degrees. I settled on a trusty pair of reebok running shorts that had served me well for better than a year for that day, and decided to see if maybe they would be the winner-winner-chicken-dinner for the marathon.

My “pit crew” and I pored over the course, and devised a hydration plan, adding Powerade (the flavor and variety being provided at the marathon) into the rotation, and a GU stop as well. We decided that I should eat a GU before I set out as well, just to help me get through the first big push.

The morning of the run came, and I took off. As had been my habit, I drank relatively little for those first 8 or 9 miles. In fact, when I came to my first “refill station” I still had a fair amount of water in my bottle. No matter though, I felt pretty good, and just kept going. I made it to about mile 14, and I hit the wall.

I started alternating, 2 songs run, 1 song walk.

At about mile 16, my shorts were so soaked with sweat that I could literally feel it dripping off the hem, onto my calves and then running down, into my socks. Apparently my reeboks had “wicked” as much as they could handle. They would not be joining me in MN…

I trudged home, clocking in with a total of 18.7 miles, and collapsed into my husband’s arms. At about that same moment, my iPhone shutdown, the battery completely drained.

Later, as we dissected this run, we would determine that my main downfall was not drinking enough in the beginning. Once you start to get dehydrated, it is almost impossible to swing the balance back in the right direction.

The day of the 20 mile run, which was to be the last of my long runs before beginning the taper, approached, and we planned it out with surgical, precision. It just so happened that my husband’s training plan called for him to log a 9 mile run. My favorite route has two potential finishes…one that brings it in at 9 miles, and another that bumps it up to 11. I had anxiously been waiting to share this route with him, so this was my big chance. Gleeful doesn’t even scratch the surface about that.

We talked pace. I explained that, if we were going to run together, my big fear was that the pace I planned to be would be too slow for him…I was aiming for 10:30. We agreed that, if it was too slow, he would just pass me and meet me at the house.

I donned a pair of well-loved Nike shorts, and prepared to head out. We had decided that the main evil for my phone batter was the Nike app that I tend to keep running…it keeps the screen lit up the whole time that it is running, and fills my head with a little voice that tells me how long, how far and how fast I have run. To compensate, I planned to just run with the iPod app running, and the screen darkened and use my Nike watch to capture the run and post it to Nike+ instead.

We got to the bottom of the driveway and waited for the watch to locate satellites. And we waited. And we waited. Nearly 10 minutes passed. Finally, in disgust, I agreed to swap out, and use the Garmin, which I knew I wouldn’t be able to consult about my pace or anything until the sun came up at the very least.

Resigned to running “blind” and more than a little aggravated, we set off…I had no idea what pace I was setting (he was following). Without my electronic crutch, I decided to just run what felt right, and deal with how “slow” it was later.

We made it back to the house, where I snatched up a new water bottle and kept going. A quick glance at my watch left me agog…9 minute mile average. Shit. What had I done? There was no way I could hold that pace the rest of the run…I was going to burn out and probably soon. Dammitdammitdammit.

I kept going, mentally chewing myself out.

12 miles came. "What a dumbass…you know you’re gonna pay for this."

14 miles came. "I give you another mile, tops, and you’ll be walking, moron."

16 miles came. "Alright, you *might* get lucky and pull off another mile, but then you’ll be walking for sure."

18 miles came."Boom. This is happening."

And then 20. I walked up two hills in the 18th and 19th miles. But not because I was tired. Not because my legs were spent. Because my inner thighs were chafed so badly from the shorts gathering and rubbing for so many miles, that my skin was raw, and needed a break. The Nike shorts? Also did not make the cut for MN.

When I stopped the watch and checked my pace, I could scarely believe what I saw...I had just run 20 miles, with an average pace of 9:30.
I was elated. And for the first time, since the thought had first crossed my mind to do this thing, I knew, for certain, that I was going to finish. That I could do this thing…

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A (Wo)Man With A Plan

***if you are new here, and have no idea what this is going to be about you have two intelligent choices:

a) Leave Now.

b) Start here, then work your way back, m'kay?

In my highly overrated, and largely ignored opinion, there are essentially two kinds of people in the world...those that give some sort of credence to astrology and those that believe it is hokum. As for me...well, there's something to it. I am a Virgo. No, wait, let me say that differently. I am a VIRGO.

I am picky.
I am analytical.
I am a perfectionist.
I am a fuss budget.
I am a worry wort.
I can be extremely rigid.
I am more than a little stubborn.
And God help you, don't make me be late.

Starting in May of 2012 I was also in possession of a plan.

Which anyone that believes in the powers and characteristics of the Zodiac can tell you is one hell of a heady combination.

Suddenly, instead of having a vague goal and a hazy idea of how to achieve said goal, I had a concrete! structured! blueprint for getting there.

Rules! Schedules! Requirements!
To a Virgo? this is the equivalent of SHINY!!! to a crow. Or cake to a fat girl. (I kid...but still, you get my point.)

Not even remotely surprisingly, I latched onto this training program with a hearty gusto and heaved a gigantic psychic sigh of relief...

...until I looked at it a little bit more closely. And realized that, rather than running 5 or 6 days a week, I would only be running 3, maybe 4. The other days were either allocated to cross training or, the shock, the horror, premeditated REST days. I immediately panicked.

It had been more than a month since I had gone for more than a single day without running. I hadn't managed to increase my mileage appreciably. How on earth was I going to do it if I cut back on my running?

The twin sides of my nature began an epic battle.

The rule follower said "But the plan says its OK!!! Follow the plan!!"

The worry wart said "We're all going to die!!!! There is no way this will ever work!!! Gloom...Doom..."

So the rule follower started the plan, and the worry wart cheated, by adding in small "fun runs" on the mornings that were supposed to be cross training days.

According to the plan, I was to run 40 minutes on Monday morning. This was a longer time than I had ever tried to run on a school day. My 2 mile course was taking me about 20 minutes or so, so this would be almost double. I was a little skeptical, buuuut...the plan said so.

I obediently set my alarm on Sunday night, and rolled out of bed and out the door, giving myself enough time to run 40 minutes. It occurred to me early on that, I had no idea where to run. I mean, should I just run the same route I had been running...twice? That morning, I turned left at the end of the street, instead of right. And I just ran.

And this is how I continued for a good long while...I would run first 40, then 45, then 50 and finally 60 minutes on Monday. Cross train on Tuesday. Run between 40 and 60 minutes on Wednesday. Cross train on Thursday. Run 20-30 minutes on Friday, and then do my "endurance" run on Saturday. This ranged from 5 miles, the first week, up to 20 miles in week 17. Around week 12, some tempo runs were sprinkled in to the training as well.

The first couple of weeks, I continued to "cheat" on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Slowly though, I gave that up. I realized that, I was running longer and longer distances in the morning, and at a faster and faster pace. On those off days? My body kind of needed the break.

The first couple of weeks, I also tended to psych myself out pretty badly, by looking too far ahead in the plan. I would come back, exhausted from an 8 mile run, and panic that, in a month, I would be expected to run 12! 12 miles! That's a whole 50% longer!!!! How would I ever be able to pull that off??? (Fire! Brimstone! Apocalypse!)

I remember the day that I crossed the double digit threshold. I ran 10 miles. It was July 18th and I was 8 weeks into the plan. I came home, exhausted, but proud. This was a major milestone. I was impressed with myself, but totally convinced that there was not a chance in the world that I could go further.

10 weeks later, I had begun the taper. I had a 10 mile run scheduled. It was September 22. My husband and I were discussing it, as he had by this point, started a 1/2 marathon training program of his own. I remember saying to him "Yeah, but I only have to run 10 miles tomorrow...its not a big deal."

Only 10 miles. What a difference time and a little fanatical adherence to a plan had made.

Before I knew what happened, it was October 4th and we were boarding a plane for Minnesota. Three days later, I would run my first marathon.

But that? Is a story for another day.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Baby Steps

***if you are new here, and have no idea what this is going to be about you have two intelligent choices:

a) Leave Now.

b) Start here, then work your way back, m'kay?

I now had a goal, a deadline and a party to hold me accountable. Sure that date was a looong way off and the person tasked with holding me accountable was less than enthusiastic about actually running the race, but still, this was enough to convince me that it was time to hunker down and get serious about this running stuff…as soon as the holidays were over. And it warmed up a little. And…

Excuses are so incredibly easy to come by. If you can’t find one, it takes next to no time at all to craft one. And I? Am an artisan.

Knowing this about myself, I braced for impact and let that nature butt heads with the other side of me: the stubborn one. I knew that, given the chance to wrestle it out, the stubborn side stood a fighting chance.

In early spring, I started doing something that shocked no one so much as myself…I changed my alarm clock to start waking me up at 5AM (ha! Take that 7AM!!) and stopped allowing myself to press snooze. I started getting out of bed, bundling up, and heading out my door to run. Every morning. In the beginning, it was a roughly 2 mile trot. Slowly but surely, I found ways to add a little distance here, a little distance there. So 5 days a week, I dragged myself out of bed, at the o’dark thirty, and ran around my neighborhood. On the weekends, I would go to the local rails to trails and run a longer run, roughly 5 miles. I was proud, but concerned…I wasn’t even clocking 15 miles a week at this point. How was I ever going to get to 26.2 miles in a single outing?
A little later that spring, business required me to start traveling to KY for a week out of each month. Much as I hated to leave my family, it occurred to me that it might be novel to run in a city, and seeing as I was to be staying in downtown Louisville, I knew I was about to get my big chance. The first morning that we were there, I awoke before the sun, pulled on my pants and headed out of the hotel. I had no idea where I was going, and what were the “good” and “bad” parts of town. Now…a quick note for those of you that may not realize this…I come equipped with my own form of GPS…that is Ghetto Positioning System. If there is a bad part of town? I will wind up there. So this? Not one of my more well thought out plans to be sure.

Anyway… I decided to just go. I quickly devised the ad hoc plan to just run to each intersection and let the lights dictate my route. Whichever crossing had the walk sign, that was the way I would turn. I carried on this way for a couple of miles, without incident. I ran through a little neighborhood of tidy looking brownstone type buildings, when I saw an SUV, stopped in the middle of the street, with its lights on and doors open. Something seemed a little dodgy about this to me, so I deemed this just as good a time to turn around and head back as any. As I did, I looked up and noticed that the building I had opted to stop and reverse directions in front of? The homeless shelter. Of course it was. Because I? Am never more than two turns away from being lost in the ghetto.

Later that morning, I told the story to my boss and coworkers. My local colleagues? Urged me NEVER to do that again. And I was instructed to run inside. On the treadmill. Suffice it to say that I did that one morning and then spent the rest of the trip with my running shoes in the closet.

Soon after I returned, my partner in crime came out to visit from MN, and we went for a run together. I almost broke him, and really worried that he was going to back out. (He didn’t.) It was at this point, that my husband (and kids) decided that they too would like to start running. To say that this shocked and amazed me would be something far shy of an understatement. My husband, up until this point had always stated that he only ran when being chased or chasing something. Apparently he had decided that perhaps it would be fun to chase me. I'm so glad that he did. But that is another whole blog post in and of itself.

The next month, when I returned to Louisville, one of my local colleagues had taken the time to find me a safe route to run…which I did, every morning. But before I left for Louisville...the morning before I left, to be exact, I ran another 5K, the Cumberland Valley Rails To Trails Race, Ride and Ramble...this time with my husband and son. I PR'd by almost 3 minutes, coming in at 28:03, and finishing second for my age division.

When I returned from that trip, I picked up right where I had left off, still running 5 days a week, now 2 times a day on soccer practice days plus one weekend run. Though I had a fantastic frequency going, I still didn’t seem to be able to break that distance threshold. I was already getting up at the crack of dawn, to run my paltry 2 miles…how on earth was I ever going to get my distance any further, without getting up even earlier?? I really started to fret.

Before too long, it would be time to head back to KY. I knew I already had one “safe” route in my pocket, but I really kind of had a hankering to find some other courses. A little Googling and I found an app and website, called WalkJogRun. You plugged in where you were, and it would spit out any local route that other runners had saved. Perfect! I quickly downloaded the app and started looking. Before long, I noticed that it also had a number of training plans available. I found one for a first time marathon, loaded it, and almost immediately had a gigantic sense of relief. It was May. The program was 20 weeks long. I had 20 weeks until the marathon. I could do this!

And so I began really training for my very first marathon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Taking The Next Step

***if you are new here, and have no idea what this is going to be about you have two intelligent choices:

a) Leave Now.

b) Start here, then work your way back, m'kay?

the thing about platitudes is that, while they sound pretty catchy, in general, they don't really tell you anything you didn't already know...however, sometimes you just need to hear them anyway. This? Was one of those times...and thankfully, there is no shortage of running axioms, with which to bolster one's spirits. At the end of the day, they pretty much all boil down to one simple fact...anyone who runs? Is a runner.

This would become my mantra, post blister.

As summer turned to fall, and school and sports started back up, I recommitted myself to running. The boy child had twice weekly soccer practice, at a field that was an almost perfect 3 mile distance away. Starting in September, on the nights that he had practice, I would come home from work, get changed, and run to his practice. Some nights, if I was feeling especially ambitious, I would run a few laps around the walking trail that lines the park as well. It felt good to get into a routine, and I enjoyed trying to better my time with each outing. I even added slightly longer runs into my weekends here and there and really, truly started to feel like an actual RUNNER.

Fall slowly turned the corner towards winter though, and soccer season came to an end. Without the scheduled regularity of practice, it was suddenly eleventy billion more times difficult to carve out time to run...what had been 3 times a week suddenly dwindled down to once weekly runs...I was crestfallen, and had no idea how to get my groove back. Where and how would I find the time to run?

It was right around this timeframe that I had expressed my desire to eventually run a marathon to one of my best friends, and had explained that I just didn't know which race I wanted to aspire to. It was at that point that he started trying to sell me on his company sponsored marathon, The Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon .

"Sure" I said..."Sure, I'll come to Minnesota. In October. Right-o..." A short haggling period ensued, and we finally came to the agreement that I would come out and run this marathon if and only if...

a) He ran it with me. (**updated for clarity's sake: This was *my* condition...)

b) He paid for the registration fee. (**this was not so much a condition, but the offer he made to convince me to do it), in all honesty, I would have done it regardless, but I figured, if he paid the fee, he would be less likely to not do it. I also figured, if he was training for it as well, I would have less temptation to give up...I would owe it to not only myself to follow through, but to him as well...come heck or highwater, this. was. happening.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Getting Off On the Wrong Foot

***if you are new here, and have no idea what this is going to be about you have two intelligent choices:
a) Leave Now.
b) Start here, then work your way back, m'kay?

…and now, the exciting conclusion of The Great Blister Disaster. As I mentioned yesterday…ok, ok, you caught me…not really yesterday. It’s a couple days later. But from a business perspective, it’s the next business day…so can we just go with that? …like you had a choice anyway.

What was I saying? Oh, yes, blisters.

So, the misguided, misdirected run in TX left me with two things. A new personal record for the longest distance run and a big honking blister, square on the ball of my foot. I spent the rest of the vacation largely ignoring it, and hoping it would just go away, but blisters aren’t fond of giving up their claim, if you don’t stay off of them. A few days after we returned from vacation, some friends of ours, who live roughly 3 miles away, were leaving on their own vacation. They asked if we could look in on their pooches, and I thought “Hey, perfect excuse to run…3 miles there, have a drink, feed the dogs, then get back out on the road, and run 3 miles back. What could possibly go wrong???”

So, early on Saturday morning – or at least what I thought of as early back then – around 7 AM, I strapped on my trusty Newtons and headed out the door. The sun was already up, the air was already still and it was already pretty darned warm. Not TX warm, mind you, but definitely mid-July in PA warm. Off I ran, towards their house, with all the best of intentions. The first mile went pretty smoothly, with some gentle inclines and declines. The second mile smacked me in the face with a pretty obnoxious hill, but I made it up the whole thing, without stopping to walk, no matter how badly I wanted to. I was rewarded for making it up this “monster” of a hill with a swift downhill, that really set my blister to rubbing. Hmmm. Hadn’t thought about that…

The end of the second mile brought me to a hill I had forgotten all about, despite having driven it hundreds of times, on my way to their house. I looked at it, panicked a bit, and then gave myself permission to walk…at the next mailbox. I managed to squeeze about 5 more “next mailboxes” out, before finally giving in, and walking the rest of the way up. As is so often the case, I was again rewarded with a downhill, which led straight to their house.

I scurried inside, in hot pursuit of air conditioning and a cold drink.

A good long(ish) while later, and I was faced with the harsh reality that I was going to have to go back. Suffice it to say that the trip home, was less successful than the trip there. It was hotter, sunnier, steamier and I was already tired, sweaty and cursing my blister.

By the time I got home, I was red in the face, out of breath and basically, downright miserable. I made the executive decision, then and there, that I was not going to take another step in running shoes, until that blister was gone. And I stuck to that. It’d be weeks before I ran again…and even then, I was hesitant, and unsure whether I even had the right to call myself a runner…

Friday, October 19, 2012

In The Beginning...

So, in an unprecedented effort to stick to my guns on the story telling…let’s open that whole can of worms that is otherwise known as running.

As I alluded to yesterday, I rekindled my romance with running last in March(ish) of 2011. Honestly, I blame Twitter. I started seeing tweets in my timeline about so and so finishing Day2 Week3 of the C25K program, and just *had* to find out what that was all about. Because I am nothing if not nosey. What I found out intrigued me. An app that purported to get you from sitting on the couch to *running* a full 5K in 12 weeks? An app that would provide you with a little voice inside your head, to tell you what to do next? So, basically training that I didn’t have to think about…just needed to follow instructions? Sign. Me. Up.

Of course, in typical pack animal fashion, I drafted one of my closest friends…the very one that had dragged me into the running store in the first place…to complete this program with me. And she did. For the next 12 weeks, we would get together, 3 nights a week, and do whatever the masochistic voice in the app told us to do. Honestly, in the beginning, it wasn’t anything too terrible. Walk for a minute, run for 90 seconds, do the hokey pokey…you know, the basic stuff. Over time, the walking became shorter, and the running became longer. Finally, on a Friday night in early June, we lined up at the starting line of the Race Against Poverty, and prepared to take the plunge.

After 12 weeks of strict adherence to the plan, I ran every step of the 3.1 mile course, without pain, and finished the race in 30:36. I was damned proud.

As soon as this was accomplished, we embarked upon the Bridge to 10K program, with the earnest belief and desire to step up to 6.2 miles deep into the summer. A few weeks in, we ran the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K. I eagerly anticipated setting a PR, as I just *knew* I should be able to crush my old time, based upon the longer distances I had already started putting in. It was an extremely hilly course, that wound through wide open battlefields, on a very hot morning. My time was 30:34, and I was *quite* disappointed.

Anyway, back to the Bridge to 10K, for about 5 weeks, all was well. And then July hit full force. It was HOT. It was HUMID. And our interest started to wane a wee bit. Finally, in mid-July, a trip to Texas, to visit the in-laws, put what would be the final nail in a (thankfully temporary) coffin on my running efforts…

With the best of intentions, I packed my running gear for a family vacation. My in-laws live on a beautiful lake in Texas. My sister in law informed me that the distance around the lake was approximately 3 miles. This was perfect. So I arose early, one morning, strapped on my shoes, and set out for a trot.

Now, the thing to know about where they live is that it is surprisingly hilly for Texas. Also? There is more than one lake in their neighborhood. I didn’t know either of these things as I set out on my run.

The first mile or so was fine…it was still very early, and relatively cool out. I came to a road aptly named “Lake Cross”, and started over it…a small way into it, I noticed that there was water on *both* sides of the street. Not wanting to cheat myself out of my 3 mile distance, I turned around and continued along the road I was originally on.

It went on for a long, long time.

Just shy of 6 miles to be exact.

By the time I returned to their home, it was 90 degrees. I was drenched, and I had a horrible blister on the ball of my foot.

Looking at my father in law I said “Your lake is *not* 3 miles around, it is closer to 6.”

Looking back at me, he said “There are two lakes.”


This is riveting stuff, no?

So, perhaps tomorrow we will have the exciting conclusion to the cliffhanger of the blister. I know, you can hardly wait.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Run Away With Me...

So, you've probably noticed that I haven't posted terribly regularly the last 2 years or so. Commence judging me...I'll wait.

You done? Good? Good.

Forging ahead...the years 2010 through today have been quite the roller coaster. Over the course of that time I have gone from being a SAHM, to a re-employed working mom. I have gone from being a student of life, to a non-traditional student finishing up an English/Secondary Education degree to a non-traditional student  pursuing a Computer Science/Software Engineering degree.  I have gone from being relatively sedentary, with occasional, seasonal outbursts of outdoorsy activity to being a marathoner. I have also gone from being a large size 12 to a small size 4. So yeah. Changes.

Each of those changes could be a blog unto itself.

Perhaps, at some point, I will take the time to write up each of those. (Don't hold your breath.)

So let's talk running.

There are so many great motivational quotes about running out there, that really, there isn't anything illuminating that I can say, that someone else hasn't already printed onto a t-shirt, so I'll spare you the attempt at ironic brilliance...

If you run, you are a runner.

Running is not truly something that I am new to. Honestly, anyone that has ever been a child, isn't "new" to running. (With the obvious exception of those that are not blessed with full use of their legs...again, another post, for another day.) My earliest running forays were peppered with such encouraging insights as "You run like Gumby" and assorted laughter. Can't imagine why I didn't run more often.

In high school, I accidentally joined the track team. Despite putting up a hell of a fight, I loved it. And bonus!!! Nobody called me Gumby.

Anyway, the history isn't the real story.

At some point I stopped running. Something about an older boyfriend, parties in a basement and hormones...I do't know, I didn't get the whole story. (Hi mom!)

That? Was a long time ago. A very long time ago. Long enough ago that I get mildly depressed thinking about it.

While I was doing my SAHM thing, I started walking my neighborhood. With my dog. For exercise. Not as a professional. Really, what kind of hussy do you take me for?? In June/July of 2008, my best friend asked me if I wanted to run a 5K with her. I arrogantly said "Suuuuure!" And then proceeded to do almost no training.

I ran a few times, found my ankles SCREAMING at me, and did what any sensible girl would do...blamed the shoes, and went SHOE SHOPPING!!!!!

The day of the race came, I strapped on my lovely new shoes, took off and almost immediately found myself hobbled. I walked a fair bit of that race, and think I finished sometime around October. No, really, it was like 46 minutes or something. I've blocked it to be honest. I spent the next week or so with my ankle wrapped, and my pride wounded. And I hung up my shoes.

In January 2011, I went back to work. At some point in the next two months, I decided that it was time to get my butt up off the couch and back out on the road. A friend dragged me into a a running specialty shop, where they would do a "gait analysis" and put me in the best pair of shoes for me. I was skeptical, but figured that, if anywhere would have a snazzy pair of kicks, it had to be a running store - right?

In we marched, and the owner (who has now become something of a running sensei to me) came over and asked how he could help. I told him what I had experienced and he grabbed a couple of pairs of shoes, had me strap a pair on and ushered me over to the treadmill. Me. The girl who once threw herself out. Clearly he had no idea what he was asking for.

I gamely hopped up on the treadmill and started trot. So far so good. He stood reassuringly next to me, and asked me a question. I turned to look at him as I answered and SHWOOP, off the back of the treadmill I flew. Into one of his neatly stacked displays. No longer so neatly stacked.

To his credit, he *didn't* throw me out of the store right there and then. Probably because he knew he was pretty much guaranteed a sale if for no other reason than the fact that I felt really bad about destroying his store.

New rules were quickly put in place, and going forward I was to get on the treadmill, run, look forward, and answer any and all questions only AFTER I had safely exited the ride. Within 30 minutes, he had outfitted me with my first pair of Newton running shoes.

Armed with fancy, brightly colored VERY EXPENSIVE shoes, I guess I felt obligated to run. So I started the Couch 2 5K program. Which I cannot say enough good things about. At some point during that 12 week program, a hazy idea started to really materialize, and I sheepishly admitted to myself that I wanted to run a marathon.

It would take me nearly a year and half to accomplish this goal, but not quite two weeks ago, I did it. I became a marathoner. my head, I plan to continue some posts along these reality? We'll see what happens.