Monday, October 24, 2011

Patience and Faith

Patience and faith. Yesterday morning I sent my usual training week summary to Coach. I summed up my feelings about the marathon: "I am still disappointed, but enjoying the process of learning patience and faith." I hit send, but this idea, learning patience and faith, remained with me.

It's been seven months since I started training with Coach G. I've worked harder than I've ever worked before. I've always known that progress in running does not happen overnight, but pretty early on I was rockin' faster tempos and track workouts that I ever had. Yet, race after race after race (I could go on!) I've fallen short of my own expectations. It is immensely frustrating to not breakthrough after attempt after attempt. I feel like I rock it in training and then just run within a couple of seconds of my p.r. in almost every race. I can't seem to make the leap in my race performances.

I have weathered these disappointments by assuring myself the training just needs to soak in. Plug along, be consistent and the race results will follow. But they haven't. The marathon was somewhat easier to swallow just because I've experienced similar disappointment all throughout this training cycle.

Sometimes I wonder if there is something about me that will keep me stuck at the 52 VDOT, or whatever Jack Daniels says I am, forever! Coach G always says, "you don't need me to get faster. If you just want to get faster you can do that on your own." "Oh really?" I often wonder to myself in response.

Despite a lot of doubts, I still have faith. Besides the disappointments I've had a couple of signs that a big breakthrough is just a matter of time. In addition to the killer workouts, of the 2 5ks I've run this season, they were both substantially faster than my previous p.r. (26 and 34 seconds faster). And I ran 6:18 pace for 7.9 rolling miles for my Akron Marathon relay leg.

After the marathon, I found solace in believing I can log some decent prs in the 5 mile and the 5k before the end of the year. It's hard to believe that after so many disappointments. But I really do have faith in Coach G, the idea that consistent hard work will pay off, and of course my own abilities. It's hard to actually admit that through those doubting feelings, but I really do.

Patience and faith. Somehow we began potty training peanut the week before the marathon. Potty training is one of those daunting tasks of parenting. For me anyway, it seems like this insurmountable mountain of wet pants. But everyday, despite the occasional peeing of the pants or crying fit about not wanting to use the potty, there are glimmers of hope that he will actually be a fully functioning potty user very soon. "I am so proud of you, peanut!" "I am proud of me, too, mommy!" I do need to go buy some more underpants, unless I want to do 17 loads of laundry each week!

#2 is adorable and very independent. She just brings so much joy to all of us. But the one thing that is driving me absolutely crazy is that the girl WILL NOT WALK! She will be 16 months in just a few short days, yet refuses to take a step. She can dance standing up and not holding on to anything. She can climb on anything, including up and down the stairs. Yet, she will crawl any time she needs to go somewhere. If her knees hurt her, she bear crawls! It's at once hilarious and exasperating. After innumerable times seeing her stand and feeling sure this is the moment she will take her first step, I gave up that expectation. Now she stands and I know it is a matter of moments before she drops to her knees to crawl to her target. Although it seems like it will never happen. She will walk. It's just a matter of time. I have faith.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sunshine

I feel like I need to write a real race report for myself so I don't forget how awesome this experience was and to make sure I've learned every lesson this race tried to teach me. So, bear with me (all 6 readers of my blog), as I delve into the marathon minutia!

Four years ago, I trained my tush off for my third marathon and second Columbus. I whipped myself from 3:25 to low 3:00 shape in a year. But one thing I didn't train was my head. I toed the line a mental case and ended up losing 5 minutes over the last 7 miles with a side stitch, which I now know was due to anxiety and a total inability to roll with the punches.

I knew if I wanted to make a serious attempt at a sub-3 marathon that I had to not only get into better physical shape, I needed to work on mental training as well. I'm certainly a work in progress and I am neither the physically fastest or most mentally proficient racer, but I've vastly improved myself over the last few months. And despite lots of life stress, which is inevitable while raising 2 toddlers and generally living an adult life, I managed to line up pretty relaxed and focused on Sunday. I had a goal and I was confident, yet I was detached from the result and ready to accept whatever the day had in store for me. I was ready to do everything I could do to reach the goal, but I was also ready to roll with the punches and do my best to work with what the race gave me. I didn't just say all this. I really worked hard to actually get to that place.

So after a week of scrambling to finish up a little lawyerly work and get mrp set up for an easy weekend of just him and the kiddos, I hopped into NC's car and we were off. NC took great care of me, even giving me a bottle of her magic pre-race elixir: pedialyte. It was kind of gross tasting, but if it helped her run a 2:43, maybe it would help run a 2:58!

We arrived in Columbus and NC dropped me off for E-speed's birthday lunch. It was great to spend some time celebrating E's 30th. We had some fun, loaded up the carbs and then I headed back to the hotel with E to prepare our water bottles. E had access to all the elite offerings in the race, including her own bottles at miles 6, 12 and 18. We decorated them with her special zebra, oops I mean white tiger, tape and other accoutrement and taping two gels to each. How honored was I that she wanted to run a marathon with little ol' me to celebrate her big 3-0?!!!

Before dinner, we went to my hotel to check-in. I was rooming with NC and BH and those sweethearts had two big signs for me hanging on the wall when I arrived. I felt so loved. (Here's a little aside. Bear with me some more!) When I came back to Cleveland after finishing up my degree in NYC I had mrp and that's about it. All my friends had moved away or were lost after my divorce (if you don't know about that, well now you do!) Slowly, slowly I made new friends through running and now five years later I feel so loved and surrounded by awesome supportive friends. It means the world to me to have that network and I love them sooooo much! Ok, cheesy (but necessary!) tangent over.

We went to dinner and had the usual blast--not sure I've laughed that much in a 24 hour period in a long time! E was freaking me out ordering beer and dessert. I was being very cautious about what I ate, and looking back I might have underdid it a bit. We didn't stay too long. I needed to run out and take peanut's good night phone call and head back to the hotel to get into some jammies and veg.

NC and BH were such accommodating roomies. They gave me some quiet time so I could recenter after a busy overstimulating day. They BOTH massaged my shoulders and back to help me relax. Did I mention I love them?

I managed to fall asleep pretty quick and had a good night's sleep. I didn't feel too bad when the 4:30 alarm rang. BH was running the half so she needed to start eating and prepping too. NC slept in through it all. BH went down to the lobby to get some food and I took that time to relax and visualize a strong race. I felt ready to rock it!

NC woke up and Espeed came to our room to pick me up around 5:45. We left around 6:15 to get to the elite prep area to drop of our bottles and warm-up. In all we jogged about mile together and did some light drills and strides. I had been feeling stitchy on and off over the week preceding the race and could feel the stitchiness during the strides. Part of me was really worried about blowing up because of a stitch for the second straight Columbus, but I knew it just depended on how much power I gave it. If I fought it, it would take over. If I just yielded to it and rolled with it, it would not impact my ability to meet my goal.

We lined up next to JS (who was planning to meet us around mile 20!) and a couple of other pals. The national anthem played. I was excited, yet pretty relaxed. Then the gun and FIREWORKS!!! Awesome! I felt good, but within feet of starting I was stitchy. I worked on all my techniques to ignore it. It took 7 long miles, but it finally went away. In the meantime, we were rolling along between 6:45 and 6:55 (according to E. I wasn't paying attention to my watch.) I was doing well at the water stops and generally feeling pretty decent. Somewhere after the 10k we met up with a youngster running her first marathon. She wanted to roll sub-3 so we invited her along with us. She stayed with us until the half. In retrospect I think she distracted me a bit. I didn't want to waste energy talking too much, but she and E chatted a bit and I think to me from the outside it made me feel like I was working harder than they were and worried me a little.

We came out of a neighborhood around mile 8 or so and it was a bit more work as it was a little uphill and then we turned and it was very windy for a stretch. But none of this really bothered me. We turned up High St. and it looks fairly daunting with long uphill stretched, but that didn't really bother me either. We came through the half in 1:29:31, which was actually a little slower than I wanted to be. I thought we'd be closer to 1:29:00, but that didn't really bother me. I did feel like E and the girl were getting away from me a bit at times and this got me down a little bit. Right around the half I declared, "I need sunshine up my @$$ right now!" Ha! When that didn't work, I decided to tell E we needed to let the girl go. We did right after the half. In my head, it seemed like she was rocking it and I was maybe, just maybe starting to struggle.

Even so, I was intent on staying positive and taking it one mile at a time. Mile 14 might be tough, but mile 15 could be better. Or miles 14-18 could suck and I could rally at mile 19. Who knows and I was not going to predict the future. I was living in the moment, as I had worked hard for all those weeks to do. Mile 15 was our first mile over 7:00 pace and E declared it would be our only one. I tried not to think too hard about that pronouncement, but I wanted to make it to 16 as close to on-pace as I could knowing I had run 16 @ 6:47 pace just a few weeks before the race. We made it to 16. Ok, from 16 the goal was to get to 18 for the bottle and because 18 meant I only had the same distance to go as the distance I ran in the Akron Marathon relay. Unfortunately, by 18 I was toast. I don't know when exactly it happened or really remember many of the details, but suddenly I felt really dizzy and disoriented. I stopped when we got our bottle. E got me moving again. I could still p.r. I knew I was in big trouble when I saw our mile 20 split on the clock. I wanted to be under 2:17. The clock said 2:20:45 or something like that. Oh boy. That's a lot of lost time in such few miles.

I had a little hope when we spotted a woman we knew was going for the OTQ. We caught up to her pretty quickly and it helped take my mind of my own agony to console her. We kept going and I got pretty disheartened that JS wasn't at the 20 mile marker. My spirits really dropped. I had very little to look forward to anymore and he was it! Poor guy! We did see his girlfriend JM and NC. I felt so bad to slog on by, obviously falling way short of what everyone had hoped for me. We finally spotted JS at mile 21. That was a long mile! He jumped in and worked hard to keep my spirits up. No one was going to let me quit! Honestly, I wasn't going to let me quit either. I am so glad I didn't!

I really don't remember much from there except the waves of sobbing and having fun and nausea and full body cramps. I remember stopping and then E pulling me along and JS imploring me to keep going so I wouldn't cramp up. I remember the 3:05 group whizzing by me along with all hope of pr'ing and then club-mates who are much slower than me usually passing me one after the other. I do remember passing the girl who we let go around the half. That was a surprise to me, but E said she knew the girl was going to blow-up.

All through the last few miles E and JS tried to keep me hopeful that I could pr, but I saw the clock at mile 25. It said I had 8:00 to run 1.2 to get to 3:10. I knew I couldn't do that in the state I was in. Sad. I tried to pick it up several times over the last few miles, but each time I was met with a big f.u. from the body--cramping, nausea, dizziness. I was better to just slog and survive.

Finally I saw the turn to the finish. It's less than 400 meters and all downhill. JS said, GO! Open it up! You can do it! So, I turned the corner and despite seeing the time well over my p.r. I did "sprint" it in with E by my side. As we approached the finish line, I grabbed her hand and we crossed it side-by-side with our hands held high in triumph. And then we hugged, apparently. I don't remember that.

The next thing I remember is seeing stars with my face in the jacket of a race official insisting I did not need to go to medical. And then after that I remember being in a bathroom and then in a nice warm room hanging with JS. E got me into the elite finish area. And that sweet thing went off on an epic hunt for my gear bag.

We were in that room for a long time. I snacked a little. I slowly revived and felt human again. The amazing thing was that I didn't feel all that bad emotionally. I was definitely depleted, but I wasn't sad. There was nothing during the race that I could change. I did everything I could control right. I bonked. That means I either did not eat enough or did not do enough training to teach my body to burn fat efficiently. When I went back to my hotel room I noticed my breakfast was half eaten. I doubt an extra 100 calories would have made that much difference.

I really believe that Coach G's training focused on strength, aerobic fitness and speed. These are all very important, but the thing we couldn't focus on while also focusing on all those things was training the metabolic systems to handle the marathon at the aerobic pace I was capable of. With the intensity of my training load, doing very many long runs over 18 was not really possible without the huge risk of breakdown. So, oh well.

As I've said all along, this race was just a stepping stone. I learned a lot and I had an absolute blast training for it and racing it. I am a little disappointed, sure. But I know it's a step in the right direction even if the final time suggests otherwise.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The 411 on the 3:11

Well, I am still pretty tired so this will be short. I ended up running a 3:11:42. I ran a 1:29:31 first half and then a 1:42:11 second half. Ouch! Basically, I met the marathon wall I have always been afraid of. There's more to it than this, but basically I was running along at 6:50 pace through the half and then started to feel the tiniest bit shaky about things and then fell apart right around 17. I went from 6:50 to 8:00-plus in a matter of feet. I felt nauseous, woozy, heavy, crampy, crazy and suddenly I went from ready to battle whatever came my way to at least pr to surviving to the finish, whatever that took. It was heartbreaking to watch time slip away. Going into this race, pr'ing was not even a question. My pr is soft to begin with, so I figured worst case scenario I'd at least sneak in under 3:10. Ha! Shows what I know!

When you bonk or meet that wall, there is nothing you can do. There is no willing yourself to go faster. There is a pace at which you can keep moving and any faster and it feels like you will totally lose it. Everything came in waves. I'd sob and then rally and want to have fun. I'd start whooping it up and then I'd feel nauseous and get waves of full-body cramping. I must have looked like a drunk!

I knew going into this race that the moderate mileage, high intensity training Coach G has me on is a high risk, high reward kind of training. I only ran two 20 milers and I'm sure that has a lot to do with what happened. There could be a hormonal factor: I had my period and I'm still nursing #2 4-5 times a day. I was stressed the week leading up to the race trying to get ready to leave for the weekend--the first time I've left the kids in 3 years! And even with everything going my way I know I was on the bubble for sub-3.

So who knows why exactly I blew up. But it's always a risk. I went for an aggressive goal. I met the wall and kept at it. I am now never going to be afraid of blowing up again. It sucks, but it's survivable. You recover, you head back out and try again.

The best thing about the race, and the reason #5 will always top my list of best marathons is that I had the best group of supporters ever! Not only did the ever fabulous e-speed run with me from the start line and hook me up with access to the elite runner benefits, but NC and BH roomed with me, drove me to and from Columbus and kept me calm. They made me rad signs and gave me back rubs. Mrp kept the family happy and sacrificed a weekend during the market season for me and gave me pointers and pep talks all along the way. I am one lucky lady.

So, I am not broody this time after not meeting my goal. I am fired up and ready to go out hard and make that breakthrough at the next race. See you at the Turkey Trot!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Big Win

Well, it's time to wind down all the prepping and turn off the brain until race morning. I've worked really hard both mentally and physically for this one. I am feeling excited, confident and ready to get it on! No matter what the clock says I know it's going to be a fun weekend.

I can't go into race weekend without expressing how grateful I am to have had the past months to run and train again. After two back to back pregnancies and the crazy hectic home life that comes with two toddlers (we'll say toddlers even though one still refuses to walk at 15.5 months!), I am so lucky to have been able to put in some quality training. I can't thank mrp enough for helping me scrape together the time to get it done. I love him so much and every time I lace up my shoes I can't help but remember how much joy he has brought to my life just because he's himself and because he introduced me to the world of competitive running. What a twofor that was!

I am also so happy to have experienced a super fun summer of training with Coach G! He has pushed me harder than I could have ever pushed myself. And I certainly can't forget all my great pals and all the fun miles we put in together. I was able to get back up to speed to keep up with my old pals like CV, E-Speed and NC and I made all kinds of new running buddies too. I feel like I need to particularly thank MZ, my high school and law school classmate who met me in the dark every weekend over the winter and occasionally this summer. I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without any of them!

Running this past year has been my exercise, me-time, destresser, social hour, party time, etc. It keeps me healthy, sane, social and balanced. Peanut is now old enough to get excited about mommy and daddy running and loves to go running himself. To share the joy of running with my family is just beyond awesome. Did I mention how lucky I feel?

And this weekend I get to celebrate great friends' birthdays and a great marathon. E is planning to run at least most of the race with me and I have a bazillion friends amped up to cheer for me all along the course. And then I get to go home and share the experience with my family. No matter what the clock says, I know it'll be a big win for me. I'm a cheeseball, I know, but I worked hard to get to this point of gratefulness and satisfaction. I ain't going back!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

On the Range

On Sunday I had one of those amazing runs. I met the ever-fab e-speed at a local rails-to-trails early on the cold blustery morning--thankfully the rain held off for most of the run! The goal was 16 @ 6:50-6:55, and we figured since there was a 5 mile race on that particular path it would be a bit more fun to get the miles in if we broke them up by jumping in the race at some point. So, we registered early and than ran a little over 8 before the race. We started off with a 7:10 and then hovered right around 6:50. Then we jumped in the race and averaged 6:40 or so for those 5 and then hit the trail for a little less than 3. The first was a on the uphill rolling section of the path and was 6:55, but then we rolled it down finishing at 6:37 pace and happy with an overall average of 6:47-6:48 pace.

In the past I've had a good epic workout here or there, but they felt more forced and I was wrecked after them. This time I felt smooth and relaxed throughout the whole thing and felt fine since. While I won't say this means 6:47 pace is going to be cake on race day. It does mean that I have become much stronger than I have ever been over the last 6 months of training.

With that in mind I have decided to articulate my goal, even though that is risky of course. I know at this point I am really happy with my fitness and confident not only in my ability to run a good race, but in my ability to move on if things don't go as well as I hope. I have decided to have a goal range: 2:57 - 3:03. I will be happy to run anywhere south of 7:00 pace and I am really confident that I can do better than that if I turn off the brain, put left foot in front of right and relax.

I am a work in progress and this race is a stepping stone. It's quite a relief to feel this way about a marathon for a change, rather than that it's the be-all-end-all of my running life. I am looking very forward to a weekend away to celebrate friendship and running--two of the things that make me happiest! And if I can bring back a big fat p.r. souvenir to share with mrp and the kids, well it will be that much nicer!