From 26.2 to 13.1?!

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I’ve been happily recovering all week from Boston. I’ve been enjoying things like sleep, my Netflix queue, my couch, food, breathing…basically everything I haven’t had time for in the past six weeks. While trying to get my act together for Boston by logging miles on the road and recovering in physical therapy, I felt like I was always on the go. I did move around a little yesterday when I went for a super short and easy swim before work, and I ran a few easy paced miles after work. Nothing crazy, I just wanted to check in and see how recovery was going. Not bad! Some achiness in my Achilles, but nothing more than I’d anticipated.

imageLast night, I was at a charity event for a running organization. It’s called J’s Run, and they raise money for pancreatic cancer. My friends and I were asked to be the first shift of “Celebrity Bartenders” for this event. Let me tell you, I’m fairly certain that I’m a better runner than I am a bartender! I’ve never spent one day behind a bar in my life. You should have seen us trying to sling drinks and interact with customers. It was quite the sight!

So, in talking to my friend Kathy (also ran Boston on Monday), she told me that at the last minute she was asked to step in and pace our local half marathon, the St. Luke’s Half. The race is on Sunday, April 26. I used to race it every year until I began running Boston – it’s a great race. She was asked to pace the 1:50 crew, but had never paced before and had a lot going on outside of our running world. She asked if I’d like to do it instead. I’ve been tasked with being an official pacer twice before…so naturally, I agreed.

So here I am, not even four full days post-Marathon Monday and I’m preparing to pace a half-marathon on Sunday! Crap. In all fairness, many of the pacers ran Boston on Monday so we are all in the same boat. I paced a 1:45 half marathon the week before Boston at the Garden Spot Half Marathon (a much hillier course) and had a blast. I had to average 8 minute miles that day, and this is a little slower (8:24 to come in RIGHT at 1:50, so I will be aiming for 8:20-22 pace) so it should be fine. I was planning to run about 7 miles around that same pace that day anyway. The trickiest part is that I will be done a little before 10 a.m. I will have 30 minutes to finish the race and get home to shower and make myself presentable so I can leave to be at a bridal shower in Staten Island (I live in PA) by 12:30…challenge accepted.

So there’s that – my unconventional plan for marathon recovery. However, I am leaning towards running Grandma’s Marathon (I know, I know, I said I would recover after Boston) on 6/20, so it would be a good way to get in a longer run at a reasonable pace. I’m excited also because it gives me a chance to run one of my favorite races again. Bonus – my dad is in a band and they set up shop on the out-and-back segment of the course so I will get to see them – twice!

Actually, this is a fun weekend all around. On Saturday, I was invited to visit the WFMZ, our local news studio. Last year, I was asked to be part of a piece that they did following the 2014 Boston Marathon. Since I went back again this year, they asked to bring us back to the studio to follow up on our Marathon Monday experience. So exciting! Hopefully I’ll be able to post a link to it once it is broadcasted. I was hoping for a low-key weekend, but I guess that will have to wait!

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Anyone racing/pacing this weekend?? Have you ever been a bartender?? It was really hard work!

There’s Only One Boston!

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IMG_9026I did it! What a RUSH! Every year, the entire Boston Marathon weekend is a huge whirlwind. From the time I leave the house to getting to the expo, meeting up with friends and trying desperately to find time to get off of your feet and actually rest for the race, it is insane. This year might have been the craziest from start to finish, but most fun year yet.

I finished in race in 3:14:13 and was thrilled with my time. It’s a far cry from a marathon PR (3:06) but a four minute PR for the Boston course from last year (3:18). When I began training, my original goal was to be sub-3 hours. But I spent most of the winter months not actually running. Instead, I was in physical therapy for a jacked up left Achilles. It still wasn’t completely healed by Marathon Monday and I knew it was entirely possible that the race could take me anywhere from three hours to five hours to complete.

I was fine with reassessing my goal and was happy that I was able to toe the line at all. Above all, I really didn’t want to miss a Boston year. This would be my 5th consecutive year running the race. I’d only gotten about six weeks of training in (and two of those were just attempting to run whatever miles I could), so I was unsure of what kind of shape I was in for that race. As the race grew closer and I thought about what kind of pace to run, I had five scenarios in my head:

  • Goal 1: 3:05 – this would be a PR and my reach goal. I didn’t think trying for sub-3 would be smart based on what happened during my training, but I did get in a solid 22 mile run that indicated that there was some sort of endurance there. If I were to try for the 3:05, I would need make sure I went out extremely conservative in case I realized early on that I wasn’t in that kind of shape.
  • Goal 2: 3:15 – This would bring me in faster than last season so it would mean a PR for the course. If I started conservative, I would have a shot at running the 3:05. If I couldn’t, and had this as my backup goal, my legs might have a chance at being relatively unscathed by Heartbreak Hill. (Since I already told you my time, you know it was a Goal 2 kind of day!)
  • Goal 3: 3:18:17 – Hitting somewhere around here would at least put me in the same kind of shape as last season at this time.
  • Goal 4: Sub-3:35 – the race would still be a Boston Qualifier (I qualified for next year with a 3:08 at Chicago but it was just another possible goal to keep in mind for the day).
  • Goal 5: To just FINISH! Ultimately, my goal for this race was not a time goal at all. It was to just feel comfortable running and enjoy the race. I had such a bad race in Arizona about two months back that what I needed most was to simply enjoy the sport again. If that meant throwing paces out the window and turning off my watch, I was prepared to do that.

The weather forecast was another concerning factor. On Marathon Monday, I left my aunt’s house in Brookline around 5:30am and headed for the T. It was chilly, cloudy, and already breezy. I forgot my gloves and my [second] cup of coffee when I locked myself out, so I really thought I was going to be in for a long day. Not only did I have an impending sense of fear of running marathons in general because of my last race, but the weather forecast for the day started out bad and progressed to worse as the day went on. If I were going to be walking this one in like I did back in February, I would be miserable in the cold, wind, and rain.

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I met Cassie in Boston Common and checked our gear bags before boarding the buses to Hopkinton. I love that part of the day. You meet so many interesting people on the bus, and everyone wants to talk. We chatted with a guy from Oklahoma and another from Denver – both running Boston for the first time. As we pulled into the staging area in Hopkinton and got off of the buses, the cold air chilled me and I was shivering. Since you had to check your gear bag with your post race clothing in Boston Common before you boarded the bus to Hopkinton, I wore throw away clothes to the start, which are all collected and donated. Everyone walks around looking completely ridiculous – some people go all out and get hilarious outfits from thrift stores, like onesie pajamas and bathrobes.  I was pretty bundled up with my own throw away clothing, but I was still freezing. Cassie and I joked about how I looked homeless, so we had fun taking some pictures to pass the time!

We grabbed Mylar blankets, found some coffee, and a place to camp out under one of the large tents. Since we were in the first wave, we got there before the masses and were able to secure a dry spot under the tent. As we waited, it began to rain. It was a moderate, steady rain and it just looked UGLY. I considered just not running at that point. Not because I wouldn’t want to run in those conditions – I was scared for what it would be like if I had to walk it in and was wet and freezing. But it’s Boston – you don’t make it to Hopkinton and then just turn around! That thought really only lasted for less than a minute.

After about two hours of waiting around, it was time to get moving to the starting corrals. Being in the first wave this year meant I got to start in the same wave as the elite men, which went off at 10 a.m. I was Wave 1, Corral 7. I was hesitant to part with my throw away clothing but as it grew closer to 10 a.m., everyone started to strip down and get ready to run. As we crossed the starting line, I started my Garmin and began clock watching like a hawk. Regardless of whether it took me 3:05 or 5:05 to finish that day, I didn’t want to ruin the day by going out too quickly. I wanted to run at a pace that would allow me to enjoy the Boston experience from start to finish. Mission accomplished!

To try for the 3:05, I decided to go out at a 7:30 pace to warm up and drop five seconds per mile for the first five miles. By the time I got to mile 5, I wanted to be clicking off 7:10s through the half marathon point. While I didn’t stick exactly to that and did go a bit faster, I did hold back a LOT. Most people were flying by me, easily doing a 6:30 pace. That’s what I did in Arizona and it really backfired, and this time, I had the advantage of knowing the course. I kept a close eye on my Garmin and hit the first mile in 7:19. A little fast but it felt fine. I hit the 5K mark slightly fast but pretty close to where I wanted to be, in 22:23, averaging 7:12/mile overall.

The first 10 miles of the course are fun simply because you are running the Boston Marathon, but there are several points that I look forward to that break up the course. My first favorite segment is hitting the 10K in Framingham, mostly because it’s packed with people. I hit the 10K in 44:32, and was averaging a 7:09 pace overall at this point. But around the 10K, I started to get a little side sticker and my stomach felt slightly off. This happened to me at this same point in past years, and I’ve ignored it and pushed through. In the past, that resulted in a long day on the course, so I knew I needed to back off to avoid disaster. I had no margin for any errors this year so I had to be smart. My legs felt great, but I knew my body was saying today was not the day to keep pushing for a 3:05. I backed off just a little through the 15K point in Natick. I hit the 15K point in 1:06:58 and was averaging 7:11/mile, which was actually still on pace with my original 3:05 goal plan. I having such a blast and was sort of indifferent on finish times at that point, and decided to just continue to go with it.

Next up was Wellesley, which is exciting for several reasons. Even though it was a steady rain at this point, the girls at Wellesley College were out and ready to kiss the runners as we ran by. After passing the college,  the crowds get insane because you’ve reached the half marathon point. I reached the half marathon in 1:35:01, a 7:14/mile pace. When I’d calculated my splits, I’d hoped to reach the half marathon point in 1:34:37, or a 7:13/mile average up to that point. I was pretty close to being right where I wanted to be. I felt really good, but if I wanted to achieve a 3:05 I knew my next move was to drop my pace to a 7:00/mile for the remainder of the race.

It was raining pretty steadily at this point, and my stomach was feeling better so I was open to the idea of speeding up but I knew that I had some hills to battle ahead. I made the choice to just relax and enjoy the second half of the race. It was the conservative option, but I had a lot of things to consider. I was lucky to even be running at all, let alone considering to run a 7:00 pace. Just over a month ago, I began running after my disaster in AZ and couldn’t even run a quarter mile without extreme pain in my Achilles. I walked back to my car in tears that day. Another factor to consider was that I felt great at that moment, and I didn’t want that to change later in the race. I felt horrible during my entire last marathon and I didn’t want to risk feeling that way again – not just yet. Maybe when I’ve completely forgotten about the Arizona disaster, I’ll take the riskier option. But not in Boston. I knew my splits were pretty even up through that point and I knew the hills were still to come. I didn’t want to hate the last 10K – that’s the part I look forward to the most. So I abandoned my 3:05 goal and went for Goal #2, to bring it in under 3:15.

I reached the 25K and entered the hills of Newton in 1:52:40, and was still averaging a 7:15 overall pace. This is usually where I can tell if I went out too quickly because you start climbing. If my quads feel like they have nothing left at that point I know it will be a tough 10-ish miles ahead. I was thrilled to find that I still felt surprisingly good. I knew I still had a long way to go  so I kept my same attitude about my pace – just relax, enjoy, and bring in under 3:15.

By the time I hit the 30K mark in 2:16:09, and I was averaging 7:18 overall pace . I’d hit some of the hills but hadn’t slowed down too much. I resolved to run the hills comfortably and to enjoy the crowds, because this is where I feel like the course goes from being super fun to a huge party scene. Somewhere in this 5K, there were a bunch of guys handing out beer (I think it was around mile 17 or 18), so I grabbed a beer, stopped for a quick second to say cheers and clink my cup with the guy that gave it to me, drank it and moved along. By that point in a marathon, I’ve had so much Gu and Gatorade that I’m usually sick of sweets anyway.

The next 5K is where you wrap up the last of the seven Newton hills with the infamous Heartbreak Hill. The 35K mark is in that segment of the course, and I hit that at 2:40:20 and was averaging 7:22/mile overall. Around mile 20, my friend Missy was cheering with the Boston Hash House Harriers, so I stopped and gave her a huge hug. I was so excited to see her. I started to run again but the hashers got disappointed that I didn’t grab a beer, so naturally I had to take a quick break to grab a beer from them! Heartbreak Hill was my slowest mile of the day (7:59) but I felt strong as I got to the top of the hill and saw the sign at Boston College that reads “The Heartbreak is Over”. Even though I felt good climbing, that mile was one place where I added time on my overall average pace. I was fine with it because I still didn’t feel like I was dragging and was having a blast.

After Heartbreak Hill, my splits stayed pretty consistent. My 40K split was recorded as a 7:23 pace and I hit that at 3:03:48. I continued to run comfortable and started to keep my eyes open for my friend Ashley, my coach, Kenrick, and his wife, Jodi. I knew that I was not going to be anywhere near PR and staying with the pace I was running would get me to the finish line a little under 3:15. I was perfectly content with that just kept moving, enjoying the crowd and the energy. I found Ashley and my coach at mile 24, which was really exciting. As I turned the corner on to Hereford and made the final turn on to Boyleston, I was still smiling from ear to ear. It was the first marathon that I’ve run where I was running towards the finish thinking, I don’t want it to be over! No matter how good I feel, I am always ready to cross the finish line.

IMG_9053The worst part of the whole day came after crossing the finish line and having to walk really far to get your gear bag. I felt good as I walked – I grabbed my medal and my poncho to keep warm, and then booked it over to the gear check. I was freezing and soaking wet, and the wind was really whipping at this point. Once I got my stuff, I made my way into the women’s changing tent. I think it took me longer to get my arm sleeves and compression socks off than it took me to run the last 5K of the race. My hands were NUMB! Somehow, Cassie and my friend Angela ended up making their way into the changing tent when I was there struggling to get dressed, and they were in the same boat. Freezing cold, yet stuck in their wet clothes. But once I was changed, I felt good.

IMG_9012I also couldn’t be more thankful to the supportive people in my life that helped make even getting to the starting line possible. Although scheduling and work issues made it impossible for my husband and family to come up and spectate, they supported me through this entire horrendous season of training. My friends spent pretty much every single day listening to me whine about being injured and put up with me being flaky from my time being spread too thin. There’s no way I could have gotten through this weekend without Ashley, who said yes to coming to Boston without a single ounce of hesitation when I found out right before race weekend that my husband had to stay back because of work. She came up and supported me all weekend long, including standing for hours in the freezing cold rain just waiting for the five seconds she would get to see me run by at mile 24. My coach and his wife left their kids home and made the trek up to Boston to do the exact same thing. My coach also had to deal with my stupid injury and the mood swings that came along with it, but continued to help me anyway.

As I reflect on the race and how I ran, I wouldn’t change a thing. Could I have pushed harder? I think so, but I can’t really be sure. One thing I can be completely sure of is that I wasn’t willing to risk ruining my day. I was also not willing to risk setting back my recovery on my Achilles.  I usually like to get out of my comfort zone and push my limits, but this Marathon Monday was not the time for me to do that. I needed to run a marathon and truly just enjoy the simple act of running again. I needed a race that left me with that runner’s high, not completely defeated, discouraged and broken. I didn’t hear too much from my Achilles on Monday – it left me alone until about mile 25. It ached a little, but it still didn’t feel as awful as it felt in the weeks leading up to the race. I am so thankful for that. I am also thankful that I was able to listen to my body and run a smart race. Now, I’m not saying that running the race was easy by any means – a marathon never is – but it was FUN. I felt GREAT, and I feel great now. I can finally say that I can’t wait for my next race!

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Moving Forward and Building Confidence

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I’ve been thinking about my blog a lot lately and how I’ve neglected it. I still need to recap my last marathon (or should I say last disaster) but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. Today is a week until Marathon Monday in good old Boston, so I figured I better suck it up and say something. Part of why I haven’t wanted to post is because I’ve been so negative regarding running and life in general and I don’t want come across that way. I’m a positive person and I truly love running, so I just needed a minute to be grumpy. That minute has passed.

Back in February, I ran the Lost Dutchman in Arizona. My goal was to run it around 3 hours. Unfortunately, I’d been dealing with some Achilles issues and didn’t know what to expect. I expected that a PR was unlikely, but I never expected the outcome I had. I finished in 3:43. The slowest marathon I’d run in about a year and a half. Here I was a few months ago talking about trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials (huge reach goal) and I couldn’t even run a Boston qualifier. I was on pace for almost half of the race to hit the three hour mark, but disaster struck around mile 16 when both of my Achilles (my main issue had been with the left one up until that point) locked up. I slowed my pace and gave in at mile 20 where I began walking. I pretty much walked 6 miles that day – I would try to run, but I was limping badly and could barely make it .1 of a mile each time. I even sat down on the side of the road at one point wondering how the hell I was going to make it to the finish. My husband traveled with me to Arizona (we had a great trip besides the race) and was there when I finished. He doesn’t come to all of my races – sometimes I just make a quick weekend trip out of them and it doesn’t make sense. His face was the only one I wanted to see as I crossed that finish line.  The race was absolutely beautiful but it was a hell of a course. It took place in the desert and began at the base of Superstition Mountain. What a sight it was as we began the race with the sun coming up and the mountain as our back drop. I wish I could say I enjoyed the course more, but I didn’t. I would recommend the race to anyone doing a race in Arizona – it was so well organized and breathtakingly beautiful – but it was not my day and I was in a world of pain. I wish I could tell you more about it, but it was honestly just a huge blur of tears and wanting to be done.

I came home and wasn’t sure where to go from there. I took two weeks off of running completely. My first weekend off of running, I did try running and failed miserably. I drove to my little nearby park, laced up my running shoes, and strapped on my Garmin. I didn’t even make it a quarter mile before I began walking back to my car in tears. Both of my Achilles were extremely painful with each step. The best way I could describe my form would be to picture Frankenstein trying to run. My birthday fell during that time, so to take my mind off of it all my husband and my friends and trekked up to Jay Peak, Vermont for some truly incredible skiing. I spent more time on my skis this winter than I have in years and it kept me sane. I couldn’t run, but I could still be enjoying the outdoors during the winter months. It was great cross training and kept my spirits up. But the ski season began to come to an end, and Boston was getting closer so I knew I had to try this running thing once again.

The week of March 2nd, I began running again. I knew I had about 7 weeks to get my act together for Boston, and this is what I’ve been up to:

3/2- 3/8
Total Miles: 22

Though I was finally running, the week began very rocky. My first run back was a recovery paced four mile run on the treadmill and it didn’t feel too bad – but I still had discomfort. I could run, which was an improvement from the quarter mile I attempted a few weeks prior. Four whole miles felt hard. A few days later I tried another four miler on the treadmill and it was worse. Each step was painful and I was pretty sure I was done for a long time. Later that week, I basically said “screw the treadmill” and did five incredible miles outside on the snow covered roads with yak tracks.  I felt amazing and being outside for a run was nothing short of glorious. It boosted my spirits and my confidence. That Sunday, I went out and did a “long run” of 8 miles. My pace was right back where I was before this all began, and I was starting to feel like I might come back from this whole ordeal. I spent a decent amount of time in the pool and on my bike trainer to make up for what I couldn’t do in my running shoes.

3/9 – 3/15
Total Miles: 36

Probably skating on the side of stupid, I somehow tacked on 14 more miles from where I was in the previous week. It was a big jump from 22, but most of the miles I ran were recovery paced and I made sure to stay very conservative. I did a general aerobic 8 miler with some strides later in the week and hammered out a decent pace. My Sunday long run was 12 miles, and it was still in my pre-injury pace range. I was definitely feeling sore after in my Achilles, but this was a different sore. I was still going to physical therapy twice per week and was truly excited by the progress I saw this week.

3/16-3/22
Total Miles: 44

Although I didn’t jump 14 miles again, I did manage to get over 40 miles in the bank. I was excited to get closer to the 50 mile mark and even more excited with a decent 16 miler on Sunday for my long run. There were two nicely paced mid-week runs in there that were in the 8-10 mile range.

3/23-3/29
Total Miles: 49

Things were a little sketchier this week and I didn’t feel as good towards the end of the week. I had three turning points, which could be why the long run was such a struggle. Early in the week I managed a fast 10 miler. A few days later, I cautiously tackled a tempo run where I finally started seeing some sub-7 minute paces. It was followed up by a horrible 18 miler. I just felt completely awful that day. Before the run, I considered making the 18 miler a 20 miler since I’d been jumping four miles on my long run each week. I felt so terrible that the thought never even crossed my mind once I was actually out on the run. But I finished it and put it behind me.

3/30-4/5
Total Miles: 56

This was a pivotal week for me on so many accounts. I finally crested that 50 mile mark. The last time I hit 50+ miles in a week of training was two weeks before the Lost Dutchman, and I was really hurting after that. I clearly remember finishing that week out by struggling through a 20 miler and being unable to walk for days after. Well, this time around I ended with a strong 22 miler. I ran solo and on a course that I mapped out to have a similar elevation profile to Boston – only the segments that I spent on hills were steeper and longer climbs that what we have in Boston. I finished the run with four super fast miles, and negative split the run. It was Easter Sunday. The weather was gorgeous, and it was just a perfect day. Ending my Boston training on that was nothing short of a miracle, and I was so thankful.

4/6-4/12
Total Miles: 48

This takes us to last week, where I knocked down another 48 miles. My “taper” began but looks a little different than my usual taper. I came down with allergies/a cold/sinus infection thing that knocked me on my ass – but I refused to skip a run. It never settled in my chest so no matter how wiped out I felt, I didn’t skip a run. I felt awful on Monday, but it was a recovery day and I did an easy swim. I also got released from physical therapy! The therapist thought that if I was able to run 22 miles, I was good to go. Now, I am not totally pain free – and I’m pretty sure I will need to take a good recovery after Boston to fix the issue completely. But I was able to run a speedy, hilly, 10 miler on Tuesday – just two days after my 22 miler. And on Thursday, I did some “speed” – my coach had me do 3 x 3200 but more like tempo paces – not 5K pace or anything crazy. I had to run in the rain on Tuesday and I don’t think it helped my cold, so I did the treadmill on Thursday since it was still rainy and balmy out and I didn’t want to push my luck. Friday was some easy peasy recovery miles. The weekend was another real turning point for me. I paced the Garden Spot Half Marathon for the second year in a row (post coming soon!) and was the 1:45 pacer. I came in at 1:45:20! Although my legs felt good, my cold/sinus thing knocked me out and I pretty much went home and right to bed. I woke up on Sunday and still felt crappy but did a 10 mile tempo run with some fast splits. Although my head felt like it was going to explode, my legs felt great – even after the hilly 13.1 the day before. I’m hopeful that this means I’ll feel good next Monday.

That brings me to this week. It’s time to taper hard. I really can’t say my tapering began last week – I was still racking up some decent mileage. But this week, I’m not going to mess with my taper or with my rest. It’s early to bed every night, lots of fluids, protein, and good carbs. I can’t predict what kind of day I will have in Boston – it could be anywhere from 3 hours to 5 hours depending my Achilles (or the countless other variables that we pray are all in line when we toe the starting line of a race). But at least I feel more prepared going into this marathon. Even with really only having about five solid weeks of training (not counting my first week back to running or this next week of tapering), I feel better about Boston than I ever felt about the Lost Dutchman.

The biggest gain I had all winter actually came from running alone. Don’t get me wrong – running with friends is the best and almost always pushes you harder than if you run solo. I’m used to hammering out the long miles with good friends. But when I went out for my first long run after all of this, I went alone. I didn’t want to mess up my friends training runs or hold anyone up. I also got the impression that they didn’t want to deal with it either – which I completely understand. You have to be a little selfish sometimes when you are training for long distance races. While you can rely on friends to get you through training runs, most times you race alone. They can’t run the race for you, so sometimes it means heading out solo.

I did a few midweek runs here and there with some friends, but the majority of the miles I’ve run since Arizona have been alone. I actually had tears in my eyes as I finished my 22 mile run, but not because I was in pain (I actually felt pretty good) but because I did it by myself. Besides in a race, I’d never run that far or that fast on my own. I thought I needed someone to push me to do that. I thought wrong. I now know that when I go and run with my friends, I don’t need them to make me run that pace – I can run that pace. Part of me always had this fear that if something happened and I couldn’t run with my crew that I would never be able to sustain certain paces over long periods of time on my own. It took a busted Achilles to build true confidence in myself. 

But that’s not to say that I could have gotten through this without my friends and family. Throughout this whole ordeal (and every ordeal), my friends have been so incredible and supportive. They listened to me (well, still listen to me) cry and whine and  encouraged me along the way. They checked in with me almost daily and motivated me. Ultimately, every year Boston is more of a celebration than a race anyway. It is a place to celebrate the sport that we love so much and the people that have supported us along the way. It could be a PR or it could be my slowest marathon to date. But I can say with certainty that I have never been more confident going into a marathon. I will finish this race. It might be my best time, it might be my worst time – but it won’t matter. One week until BOSTON!

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A Glimmer of Hope (and a recipe!)

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I finally posted yesterday about what the heck has been going on after being MIA for a few weeks. I think I was putting off posting because I was afraid to talk about my dumb Achilles (among my other aches and pains) for fear that they would become a reality. Like if I didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t actually happening. I’m excited to report that yesterday afternoon, I had a pain-free marathon paced run! Wooohooo!

I get my workouts from my coach every two weeks, but we’ve been in contact daily to tweak them based on what happened with the previous workout and my injury status. For example, the weekend where I ran 18 miles, I had a track workout scheduled for the following Tuesday (only one recovery day in between the two). Since my crew and I ran faster than anticipated for the 18, my coach modified the track workout to a general aerobic run, especially because of my achy Achilles. That’s what I am really enjoying about having a coach. Before, if the plan said track workout, well, I best get in that track workout. Now, I have someone telling me when to back off and when to push and I really, really love it.

Yesterday’s run was supposed to be 8 miles, 7-7:15 pace. Certainly not an easy task when I’m running solo, but also not impossible as long I was feeling okay. Since I try to follow a mostly Paleo diet, I’ve been finding that sweet potatoes before a run work pretty well for me. I’ve been eating them for breakfast before my long run and they seem to give me a good energy boost without bothering my stomach. Oh, and it’s an easy, welcomed addition to my diet because I love them. Knowing I was going to try to hold a faster pace, I decided to pack one as my afternoon snack at work.

I had a few options as to where I could go to complete the run, but they were somewhat limited since there’s a little coating of snow/ice in our area.There’s a local trail that I really love, but it isn’t necessarily the best place to run if speed is my focus for the day. The surrounding roads, however, are perfect. They are usually well cared for when the weather is poor. Gently rolling terrain with gradual climbs and descents, and only one or two relatively steep hills in the middle of the run. I still park at the trail head since it’s only about 10 minutes from my house (on the other side of a huge mountain, or I’d just run there!), so it’s also very convenient. I knew there would be some snow on the trail anyway and didn’t want to worry about it messing with my pace, so I hit the streets for this one.

IMG_8043As I headed out of the parking lot, I told myself to start slow to warm up. Don’t look down at my watch, just let my legs do their thing and warm up at whatever pace felt good. I didn’t care if my first mile wasn’t in my designated range. I figured I could do this as a progression run and still hit that 7:15 average. I looked down as I neared the one mile mark and saw…6:53? Was my watch broken? I was cool with being out of my pace zone, but wasn’t expecting to be under the faster end of it. I ended up averaging half of the miles in the 6:45 range and the other half in the 6:50 range – with an overall pace of 6:49. It didn’t feel “effortless”, but I just felt great. FINALLY! Best of all…no aches and pains to whine about! I have no idea if I could even repeat that performance if I tried. Did that even really happen yesterday or did I imagine it?

This morning, I got up and went for a super short swim. Today is a rest day from running, and my coach said I could swim about 1500 meters (usually I swim 3000 + meters in a workout), and to do some core/strength work. My gym and physical therapist are conveniently located in the same building so I got up, hit the pool and made it in time for my 6:30 am PT appointment. My legs were totally dead when I was swimming – it felt like I was lugging around dead weight! Anytime I did a set using a pull-buoy (a foam buoy that goes between your legs to prevent you from kicking, just focusing on using your arms to “pull”) felt like a rest because I didn’t have to make my stiff legs try to work. The routine I have going on at physical therapy is pretty simple, yet effective: the therapist warms up the achy region, does some ultrasound on it, then some Graston and massage, and then I stretch it out. The Graston makes it a little sore, but I can really feel it working to break up whatever was causing pain. I am hoping that I’ll be released from PT by the end of next week. If I can get through my long run and recovery runs with no pain, I’ll feel a lot more confident.

After my run yesterday, I made my favorite weeknight dinner – a Honey Mustard Chicken dish that requires little prep and just enough time in the oven that you can get a few things done (for me, that’s usually some core work and packing my stuff for the next day). It’s a great post run treat, and I served it up with some glazed carrots. I haven’t shared a recipe in awhile, so here it is!

IMG_8048Honey Mustard Chicken
Serves 4-6 

  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard (preferably something organic and with only a few ingredients to keep it as Paleo as possible, but if that isn’t a concern for you – any mustard would really do nicely!)
  • 1/3 cup raw honey (or whatever honey you have on hand)
  • Salt (I like the pink Himalayan stuff or sea salt, but use whatever you prefer)
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2-3 lbs of bone-in chicken thighs (I’ve also used split chicken breasts, legs, etc.)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Place the chicken in a large casserole dish. I like to use a 9×13 glass Pyrex, but you can use whatever will fit it. It’s fine if they are a little squished. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the chicken.
  3. In a bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the Dijon, honey, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Pour over the chicken. Top with the two sprigs of rosemary, and bake for about 45 minutes or until your chicken is 175 degrees on a meat thermometer. Sprinkle with a little more fresh ground pepper when it comes out of the oven. Try not to eat the entire tray :)

There’s some snow in the forecast for the weekend but I have a 22 miler on the schedule for Sunday. Hoping the snow doesn’t mess that up, but excited for some accumulation. Such a love/hate relationship with it this winter. I did make it out to buy some brand new yak tracks so hopefully if I have to run in the snow, it won’t jack up my body too badly.

What are your weekend running plans? How do you handle running in inclement weather? Are you battling any injuries right now?

Bring on the Cranky Pants

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Okkkkay. I’m back. I’ve been semi-avoiding the blog world out of crankiness. My own crankiness, of course.

So way back before Christmas, I posted about a freaking awesome long run I had with my friends. I was on such a high. And then I got sick…on Christmas Eve (I had 20 people at my house for dinner and a fever. That was fun). Whatever I had lingered and caused me to miss about five days of training, and it was awful. But no problem, my coach and I communicated and agreed that I would rest and not panic. I missed a long run. I was bummed.

The next week, I jumped back into my training and felt decent – but had a nag in my left Achilles. I remembered feeling it after that last long run, but then after being sick it just went away. So I kept running. Got in a decently paced 16 miler, around a 7:25 in some slippery conditions but had some pain in the area that worried me. Still, I kept going. I hoped it was just one of those aches that would go away after a few days and work itself out. I even got in a nice track workout of 800s later that week and hit/exceeded my paces. The pain kind of just stayed the same, so I headed out for my 18 miler that Sunday. We had another epic day where we felt incredible – my friend Kathy and I pushed the pace and averaged a 7:08 for the entire run, hills and all. My ankle didn’t hurt while I ran – even so much as to think to myself, “Maybe this was all in my head and I’m past whatever it was!” Ha.

After the run, I made sure to take an ice bath (which was freaking torture, it is FREEZING in PA these days!) and popped some ibuprofen just because I wanted to get ahead of any potential inflammation. I’m not much of a fan of NSAIDs, but I thought it would be a good idea. Well, over the next few days I had some definite soreness so my coach backed off the intensity of some of my runs. By Thursday, I decided it was time to get in to my doctor. By some miracle of God, he had an open appointment right at the end of my work day. He had me get my left foot x-rayed before I even saw him and after a thorough clinical exam, determined it was a little tenosynovitis of my Achillies. So the sheath around the tendon was unhappy. Made sense, because I really wasn’t displaying any of the classic Achilles tendinitis symptoms.

He got me in for some PT – of course I have the therapist’s number in my phone so the three week wait to get in with him didn’t happen – I was there the next day for some Graston, ultrasound and massage. They also gave me the Flector Patch to put on the area – basically an NSAID patch that is directly applied to the source of pain. Which is kind of hard to find – there really is no pain to the touch, no swelling, etc. It’s so odd.

It seemed to work because I was able to log some miles at some decent paces over the weekend, but then we got hit with a bunch of ice, something I don’t mess with regularly. Started my long run (supposed to go 22 miles) on Sunday and the freezing rain began about 8 miles in. By mile 10, I started walking because I could barely take a step without sliding. I had to walk about two miles from my car, and I was frozen to the bone. Tried again the next day but had to wear my Yak Trax because it was still so slippery out. I made it 14 miles, but the outer edge of my left foot began hurting. My Yak Trax were kind of old and falling apart, so I think it threw off my stride. I threw in the towel, but my coach was still happy with the mileage I managed in such poor conditions. It was a rough run.

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Ski Area – Blue Mountain; Trail – Razor’s Edge

So on Tuesday, I went out for some easy-peasy recovery miles, and by the time I got about 2-3 miles into my run, the outside of that foot started aching again. What. The. Hell. It didn’t hurt all day and pretty much felt fine, so why now? I finished up six miles and sulked. Yesterday was a scheduled cross training/strength training day so I went tot he gym before work and lifted, and skiing after work. We got out of school early for some impending snow and I got on the slopes early and got in some extra runs. Felt good, no pain, but my next run is today.

I’m frustrated because since Christmas, it’s been just one thing after the other. Sick, injury, poor conditions. On one hand, life happened and caused me to miss some training. On the other, I’ve logged some quality miles. My next race is in a few weeks – a 10K – and then my first marathon of the “spring” season is on February 15th. With some of the long run paces I’ve hit recently, I wanted to shoot for 6:50-7 minute miles in the marathon, 6:20-30 in the 10k. Even with missing a long run and having to cut off some distance due to weather last weekend, I am confident that I can do this. I know I can. Except now I’m just hoping I don’t have a fracture in my foot or something. Honestly, I think I aggravated a tendon in there from running in the poor conditions in my Yak Trax, but it’s enough to have me concerned. I’ve had stress fractures before to know what they feel like, and what I felt was enough to worry me. The good news is, my “tell tale” stress fracture sign is the hop test. Anytime I had a stress fracture, I couldn’t hop on it without feeling something – and when I hop on this I feel nothing. So that’s good.

I guess when I take it for a spin today (after yesterday’s day of cross training), I’ll see what the deal is. Here’s to keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best!

How do you deal with injury interrupting your training? When something hurts, what “process” do you follow to try to heal it as quickly as possible?

A Week in Review: 12/15-12/21

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IMG_7769Merry Christmas! The next few days are about to get crazy busy so I’m not sure now much posting I will be doing. We attended one of our annual Christmas parties yesterday, so we couldn’t help but snap a picture in front of the tree. My husband comes from a pretty big family, so we celebrate Christmas Day with his family on the weekend before the actual day so we can all be together. Of course, the day wouldn’t have been complete or as fun if it didn’t start off with my Sunday long run!

I already recapped much of my efforts last week because I posted about some of the different workouts I completed (track workouts and speed work). I don’t normally blog about my specific runs and paces, but I really want to keep track of my efforts as I move towards 2015 and my goals. I ran five days and 44 miles this past week. That’s the most mileage I’ve run since before the Chicago Marathon, and I finally got back up to a 14 mile long run. The previous week was a rough one for me, with a not-so-pretty hill workout and a tough race at the end of the week. It wasn’t that any of it was really “bad”, I just didn’t feel great. Having a few “wins” this past week felt good.

For this past week, the icing on the cake was my Sunday long run. 14 miles, 7:05 pace! We started a little more conservatively, and ended faster.The best part was that the last two miles were the fastest, with a 6:52 and 6:46. There were several other sub seven minute miles sprinkled throughout the entire run, but those were the fastest and meant the most because they were at the end. We were tired, we were hurting, we weren’t even able to talk – but we were pushing! A group of us went out for our long run together, but I mainly stuck with Kathy the whole time since we took off and cranked out the miles. For the first half, I was able to talk but was slightly concerned that I might not be able to hold that pace. After our first mile (it was a little slower as we warmed up), I saw our pace hovering in the 7-7:10 range and I panicked a little. I know my coach actually has it on my schedule for next week to run that pace for my long run, but I hadn’t really mentally prepared for that to happen any sooner. We’ve been running around a 7:20 pace for our long runs, so this was a bit faster right out of the gates.

I don’t know if I could repeat that performance again anytime soon (I sure hope I can!) but it was a HUGE confidence booster. I remember in the fall of 2013 when I began breaking the 8 minute mile barrier on long runs. I felt exactly the same way I felt this weekend when we were pushing the pace and hitting some sub 7s. Panicked that I would burn out, and worried I couldn’t touch those paces again. But the more I ran, the easier it got. Soon, it was “normal” to hold 7:30s for a long run. Not “effortless” but what once took everything in me to keep up with my friends turned into me leading the pack. Kathy has really been working hard lately (definitely harder than me – more miles and longer runs), so it was really great to have someone as determined as me to knock out such a good run. It was really challenging to run that fast for 14 miles, but I hope tackling that pace is the beginning of breaking through another barrier.

Around mile five, I took a gel. Normally, for a 14 mile run I’d only take one gel but my coach is working with me on nutrition. He recommended bringing 3-4 gels on the run, just in case. I ended up using two of them – the second one was at mile nine. It made a huge difference and I don’t know that I could have held that pace without some fuel. The calories helped me focus and held off any negative thoughts. He also wants me to break out my fuel belt but I absolutely hate running with it. I’m still deciding what I want to do to get some fluids in my system while running. I’ve also used a hand held water bottle in the past but I don’t like that much either. I know he’s right, I’ll figure something out eventually.

IMG_7778Other than running, I had two nice swim workouts of about 3,000 meters each. I’ve really been loving my morning swim sessions and how they loosen up my legs. I did core work almost daily and got to the gym for a few strength training sessions. I made a point to get on my yoga mat almost daily to stretch and foam roll. A few weeks ago, the local running store that I frequent informed me that I was the lucky winner of a brand new pair of Newtons! Lately, I’ve been preferring my Brooks Pure Connect (4mm drop) and Nike Zoom Elites (8 mm drop), but I wore Newtons for over a year. I backed off the super low drop shoes when I injured my calf in the summer but do miss them. I prefer my Brooks, but like how Newtons really reinforce that forefoot strike because of the lug design. I don’t know that I want to use them all of the time, but I really want to use them for my speed workouts. I prefer the Distance model because of the 2mm drop. Originally, I ordered the Distance Elites but they sent me the Distance S instead since they were out of stock. I’m stoked to have another pair to add to my collection, and even more excited that they were free!

Do you wear a fuel belt running? What does your nutrition and hydration look like when you are running long? Ever take notice to the effect it has on your run?

Goals on the Horizon: A Change of Focus

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2016_US_Marathon_Trials_Project_-_Logo_Jpeg

The point of this blog has been to document my quest to conquer my 50 state marathon goal and ramble about my other favorite past times (yoga, triathlons, cooking, etc). I post about which states I plan to visit each year and review races. I mostly do it because I don’t want to forget the incredible experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have. It’s purpose is also to update the family and friends that enjoy following me as I work towards this goal. Sometimes, I document training efforts and injuries so I can learn from my mistakes and help others who may find themselves sidelined with something I’ve encountered.

It’s no secret that I’m gunning for a sub-3 hour marathon one of these days, but I don’t dwell on it because I feel like eventually, it will come. For as much as it seems to rule my training lately, pace is ultimately a secondary goal for me. My primary running related goals are to be able to run healthy, train with my friends,  and to see new places. My pace goal is always to run a PR unless I’m legitimately using the race as a training run, like I did with Knoxville for Boston last March. I never really throw out my goals and paces regularly. I guess in the past, I felt like if I actually posted about it and didn’t achieve it, I’d be a failure. But a failure to who? The reality is that I do this for me. I enjoy the camaraderie of the sport, the friends I’ve made along the way, the order it brings to my life, and the time I get to spend outdoors.

I’m still planning on hitting up all 50 states for a marathon, but I’m going to take that goal a little more slowly in 2015. I made some big progress last year- running seven marathons in six new states (Boston was a repeat). From a pace standpoint, if you look at where I started when I ran my first marathon in 2008, the amount of time I’ve cut is huge. I did run a 3:06 in June, but in 2008, my PR was a 4:52 – that’s one hour and 46 minutes slower. To break three hours, I need to cut more than six minutes off of my time, and I can do it. It will take a lot of work, but that’s something I am willing to do.

I’m bringing this up because my ultimate goal is not to break three hours, but to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials. Okay. I said it out loud. Go ahead, you can laugh at me – because I laugh at myself when I actually hear what that sounds like. The reality of me actually getting to the 2016 trials is slim, but not because I don’t believe I can do it. The window of time that I have left to qualify is closing quickly.  I need to run a lot faster than a three hour marathon, and I need to do it by January 2016. I have until 30 days before the trials to run my qualifying time, and I need to run a 2:43 to meet the “B” standard. To put it simply, I need to cut off an entire minute per mile from my current marathon time. It’s faster than my current 5K pace and a hell of a lot to ask of myself.

I’m extremely stubborn, persistent and self-motivated. And I’m certainly not a quitter. I didn’t start running until my late 20s, but that just means my legs are fresher than anyone who has 20+ years in the sport. It also means I still have a LOT to learn about racing and training. I didn’t even know much about putting in the work until the last few years, and with just a little effort got to where I am now. I believe I can do this. And if I can’t, and I end up running a 2:50 marathon or something, would I be that disappointed? Helllllllll no!

The whole thing became more of a reality for me after I met and began working with my coach back in August. He asked me what my goals were, and I said I wanted to break three hours in the marathon. He questioned what I would want to do after I break three hours, and I joked, “Oh, I don’t know. Qualify for the Olympic Trials?” I’ve qualified for the other big races. I don’t say that to be snotty, it’s the truth. Boston. New York. Chicago. Check, check, check (though I’ve qualified for NY but haven’t actually run it). I used to be a Boston sqeaker. Then I wasn’t. I might as well try while I can. I don’t have kids, and my husband is extremely supportive. As a teacher, my hours are ideal for training purposes.  I’m also fortunate to have some of the most amazing and supportive friends. People of all different paces to run with, push me, and motivate me.

The reason I even had this idea in my mind was actually thanks to a friend of mine, Bill. He’s a friend that I met through my friend, Bart Yasso (he’s lives a few miles from me!) at the Marshall Marathon and “introduced” me to Ariana Hillbourn’s story. It’s scary similar to mine. She also began running in 2007, in her late 20s and was never spectacular at sports. Like me, she also ran her first marathon in 2008 – and she ran in 4:36. Over time, she had the same goals and milestones I’ve had – qualify for Boston, run sub 3, and now the trials. She just ran a 2:35 at the Twin Cities Marathon – her SECOND trials qualifier, and now qualified under the “A” standard (a 2:37).Coincidentally enough, she was a teacher before all of this began.

So over the next year, I have a rough idea of where I am headed. I’m only going to run courses that are certified and sanctioned by the USAT&F. My coach has put in some serious time planning out the method to this madness. It’s looking like my season will start with a tune up race in February, and run through June. Then, I can do a short recovery and start again for fall – kind of like a split season. So far, these are the races on my schedule:

  • February 15, 2015 – The Lost Dutchman Marathon (Apache Junction, AZ): My goal will be to use this as a benchmark test. I would love to break three here. The reality is that I may not even run a PR. I am only up to a 14 mile long run right now, so this will really be more of a training effort. I may use this race as a chance to try to run sub-7s for an entire marathon. My current PR marathon pace is 7:08. I emailed the race director to ask if the race had USAT&F sanctioning and could be used as a trials qualifier, and he gave me a free entry coupon! As a bonus, I haven’t hit up AZ for a marathon yet, so it will be State #27! Winning.
  • March 22, 2015 – Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon – tune up race for Boston
  • April 20, 2015 – The Boston Marathon – This will be my 5th consecutive Boston. If I could pick one place to break three hours, it would be here. This race has been an integral piece of my running experience. I wrote about how this race has been my source of motivation to overcome obstacles right before the 2013 race. You can read all about that here.
  • June 20, 2015Grandmas Marathon (Duluth, MN): if nothing else, it will be state #28 since I haven’t visited Minnesota for a marathon (or for anything) yet!

I don’t know anything past Grandma’s at this point. I’m eyeing up Indianapolis Monumental for fall, but that’s totally up in the air right now. I’m assuming my spring will be spent chipping away at that sub-3 goal. If I can make that a reality, then I can move onto part 2.

It’s a serious long shot. It’s going to require me to have a day where all of the stars are aligned and my training will have to be on point. But I’ll never know if I don’t try. So yes, this blog will still follow and document my 50 state quest. But over the next year, it’s going to follow my quest to reach my newest goal. I read an article the other day about a 44 year old woman who had a 3:08 PR that qualified for the trials. I’m the right age, I have the time to train, and the desire to go for it. I have a great support system – a husband, family, and friends that support my goal and a coach that might believe I can do it more than I actually believe I can do it. So…here it goes. The clock is ticking!

What’s the craziest goal you’ve ever set for yourself? Did you achieve it?