Easy Means Easy

Since I’ve been hung up on the topic of recovery this week and the areas I’d like to focus on for improvement and injury prevention, I want to discuss the importance of recovery runs and understanding how to pace them. I get the term “recovery” from Pete Pfitzinger, the author of Advanced Marathoning. He’s pretty much a genius and I highly recommend his book. His definition of a recovery run:

“Recovery runs are relatively short runs done at a relaxed pace to enhance recovery for your next hard workout. These runs aren’t necessarily jogs, but they should be noticeably slower than your other workouts of the week. The optimal intensity for recovery runs for most marathoners is to stay below 76 percent of the maximal heart rate or 70 percent of heart rate reserve. On a subjective basis, on recovery runs you should feel as if you’re storing up energy rather than slowly leaking it. You should finish the run feeling refreshed. Going too hard on recovery days – when your body is most tired – means you’ll be more tired than you should when it counts later in the week.”

I don’t really know anything about heart rate training and only recently started using a Fitbit to see that data, so those numbers make a little sense to me these days. But I do understand pace. Before I began training with my coach, I read this statement and went right to the McMillan Pace Calculator, and ran it based on my current marathon PR (3:06) and my goal marathon time (sub-3:00) came up with this:

image

What? I could train for a sub-3 hour marathon and log nine minute miles? Sign me UP! The calculator also comes up with paces for track workouts/tempo runs/etc. I was skeptical, but I wanted to remain injury free and try something new so I went with it. Slowing down is how I went from my marathon PR being a 3:31 in June 2013 to a 3:06 in June 2014. I kid you not. If you run the calculator and feel like your recovery pace is unreasonably slow, don’t be turned off. Just try it! And really try it – like give yourself a whole training cycle and just see what happens. It might feel weird or even uncomfortable at first but soon you’ll find that you have more left to push on your hard days and can net more overall miles.

Rewinding to my pre-McMillan days, I would just go out and run whatever pace felt good on any given day and never saw any consistency. I started slowing down my easy runs to the slower end of my recovery range, and found that I made huge gains on the days that mattered (speed work, hills, etc). It was also a time in my life where I remained relatively injury free.

Fast-forward to August 2014, when I met my coach and started working with him. He didn’t encourage me to run my recovery runs “fast”, but now I was following his plan and his workouts were worded differently. My coach calls easy runs “aerobic runs”. See, Pfitzinger also uses the term “aerobic” to describe a type of run. To Pfitz, a general aerobic run is a type of an easy run. It’s a bit harder paced than a recovery run, but not completely killing it. I’d use the “easy run” range for my general aerobic runs when I trained myself, and never cared when my runs were closer to the slower end of that range. Now that I had a coach and he called my easy runs “aerobic”, I was using that easy run range for my recovery days. Not too much of a problem if I’m sticking closer to the 8:14 end of things, but I wasn’t. I wanted to impress my new coach, so what did I start to shoot for every time? Closer to that 7:14. Ouch. I may try to train like an elite athlete, but I am the furthest thing from an elite athlete. So why did I think it was okay to be logging “easy” miles in that range?

I know I keep talking about my dumb Achilles, but it still isn’t completely healed. There’s still that nag that shows up after a few miles and lasts until after I run and stretch. I’m really committing to developing/revisiting habits that will support healing my current issue and promote longevity in the sport. In doing so, a factor to consider is how I went from having these easy run days built in my schedule to everything being race pace, all the time. I know better. I’ve done better, and I’ve gotten better results. It usually takes an injury for me to realize that I’ve developed some poor habits, and trying to kill it on every run is one that I need to break – now. It isn’t necessary, beneficial, or healthy. The biggest key to success in this sport is consistency and you can’t have that if you’re always sidelined. It’s like you’re constantly taking two steps forward and one step back. If you’re lucky enough to train this way and remain injury free, it’s likely that you’ll either plateau or burn out very quickly.

As I move forward with my theme from yesterday and re-evaluate habits  that have gone to the wayside, I’m going to take an honest look at my running paces. My mantra for my recovery days? Easy means easy. It’s as simple as that.

Making Old Habits New Again

This past Monday was supposed to be my first day out of my complete Boston recovery mode and easing myself back into the swing of things. I’ve pretty much decided (still finalizing details) that I’m going to run Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota in June. I want to get a good long run in this weekend before making my final decision. From Boston to Grandma’s is a 10 week stretch, so I felt confident that it is a good pick and could be a successful race.

Except I woke up Monday morning feeling off. My intention was to swim in the morning and do strength and PT exercises in the afternoon. When I woke up feeling weird and off, I decided I would workout in the afternoon and stay in bed a little longer. Well, as the day progressed I felt worse and worse – so I went home and found out I had a fever of 101! It was so weird because I had no other symptoms that usually accompany a higher fever – I just had chills, aches, and a fever. No sore throat, no stuffy nose, no cough. I took a sick day from work on Tuesday and basically slept from Monday afternoon through Wednesday morning, with a few breaks to watch TV or go on my computer. It was so odd. Then, I got my daily update from the TimeHop app on my phone only to find that I was home sick twice in previous years on this same day! I think Boston training really took it’s toll on me this year, especially since I was in panic mode with my injury. I think my body finally told me that I needed to slow down. I got the hint!

When I was coherent yesterday afternoon, I was reviewing my workouts from my coach. He gives me my run workouts, but also some swim, bike, core and strength workouts. So I’m pretty set with the cross training, but with my Achilles injury and fitting in physical therapy, I slacked in some areas that I’m usually on top of. Over the next 9 weeks as I head to Grandmas, these are areas that I am recommitting to improving and/or incorporating regularly:

  1. 20130722-081604.jpg
    Practicing Second Series, just over a year ago!

    Yoga: One thing I rarely talk about anymore is yoga. I’m actually a certified yoga instructor through Yoga Alliance. I am considered an RYT and completed my 200 hour teacher training program in 2009. I used to practice Ashtanga yoga six days per week and had an intense practice. I believe the intensity of my practice prevented me from getting faster – there is such a thing as being too flexible when it comes to running. I also believe that doing some form of yoga has incredible value and should be incorporated to keep muscles and fascia flexible to prevent injury. I believe my lack of yoga is the main cause of my Achilles issues, because my calves were never tight when I practiced yoga regularly. I plan to schedule at least two days per week where I get on my mat and practice the Primary Series Syllabus from Ashtanga Yoga. I used to practice second and third series, but that’s a story for another day. While I don’t think I should be on my mat as often as I used to be if my goal is to run faster, I do think it needs to be part of my weekly fitness routine.

  2. Core: I used to do core every single day. I did this for the past year, but once I got to the point where I was trying to do a million things and fit in PT, I slacked. No more excuses. I’m back to doing core everyday – including daily planks. I used to be able to do something like a 5 minute plank. I’m bringing it back.
  3. Foam Rolling – Every week, I say this is the week that I will foam roll after every run. Or even just for 3 minutes each day. My foam roller stares at me from my living room floor but do I use it? Rarely. I have a travel sized one that comes with me to work everyday, but do I take it out of my bag? Nope. Time to make this a daily habit.
  4. MYRTLs – A while back, a fellow blogger introduced me to the MYRTL routine to strengthen your hips and I loved it. I did it regularly after every single run and I truly felt it working. Again, enter physical therapy and I also dropped my MYRTL routine. Time to recommit to post run MYRTLs.
  5. Form Drills – This is an area where I have zero experience. I want to begin all of my runs with some form drills. Partially so it will warm up my muscles before running, but also because if I do it right before a run, it might start to translate into keeping good form throughout my run, even after fatigue hits. You know, the whole muscle memory thing.
  6. 20130816-070645.jpg
    Me at racing weight! Not too far off.

    Diet – I eat pretty healthy and try to follow a Paleo diet because I have a love/hate relationship with gluten. Sometimes I can tolerate it, sometimes not so much. But I have a sweet tooth. I use Fitness Pal but often lie to it so I need to start owning up to what I’m eating. I’d like to lose about 6-7lbs to get to what I believe would be my ideal racing weight, and nine weeks is reasonable to make a good dent in that. Plus, lets be real. I have a pool and it’s almost time to whip out my bathing suit collection.

  7. Physical Therapy – I was released from PT but I’m still not 100% healed. I need to make sure I stick with the exercises that we covered in PT to make sure I can continue the healing process. I like doing them on the days I hit the gym to strength train since all of the equipment I need is there. I didn’t do them the week of the marathon or the week after, but now that I’m ready to roll again it’s back to my routine.

My thinking is if I post about it, I will hold myself more accountable. I’m interested to see how things go over the next nine weeks by focusing on some of these critical areas.

St. Luke’s Half Marathon: From Newbie to Pacer

imageLast weekend, I had the privilege of leading the 1:50 pace group at the St. Luke’s Half Marathon – one of our local spring half marathons. It draws a large crowd – I think the field size was close to 4,000 runners this year! I wasn’t supposed to be the one pacing it. The woman who was supposed to be the pacer came down with a cold, and was looking for someone to step in. The only race I get to pace annually at this point is the Garden Spot Half Marathon, which I love. The St. Luke’s Half is one that is always special to me. Formally known as the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon, this race was my first ever road race in 2007. I used to race the course every year until I started running Boston. Normally, I’d sign up anyway just to run it at whatever pace I could manage that day in recovery mode. I stopped doing that a few years back when I came home from Boston with a stress fracture in my femur and couldn’t participate.

So the past few years, I’ve been an enthusiastic spectator for this race. It’s close to my house so I ride my road bike to the course and cheer on my friends. I love spectating the race just as much as I love running it because tons of the local runners from the area participate. It’s like one day in the Lehigh Valley where we all get to be together. It’s really awesome. A big part of this race is the music – there are bands all along the whole course. My dad and brother are in a local band called Forty Grand and their band sets up on MLK Boulevard around mile 3/5ish – they are at the point on the course that’s an out and back so runners get to see them twice. It’s a great spot to cheer.

Back in 2007, I was convinced by my friend, Missy, to sign up. At the time, I knew her as the yoga instructor at my gym and I was excited that I could run five miles on the treadmill. She encouraged me to sign up for the race. I remember telling my husband that I wanted to do it – we both laughed at the prospect of me running any organized race, let alone 13.1 miles. I didn’t consider it for more than a few minutes. I don’t remember what made me do it, but a few weeks later I signed up for the race. I figured I’d train for a few weeks, get bored of running and stop, and then show up at the race unprepared and suffer through it. I had a training plan from the Runner’s World Smart Coach (do they still even have that?) site. I didn’t know what any of the specific runs even meant, so I’d just run the distance on the paper. No speed work, no watch…definitely no Gu or any type of fuel, that’s for sure.

While training for this race, I discovered my love for running and actually stuck to my training plan. When I ran this half marathon for the first time, I did it in 1:53:22. I remember how hard that day was and how I felt crossing the finish line. I’d never been much of an athlete (besides two years of being on the swim team in middle school) and this was by far the most athletic feat I’d ever taken on. I ran the whole thing with a friend of mine, and she had just run her first marathon a few weeks before. As we crossed the finish line, I couldn’t fathom how she ran twice that distance. I literally slept the rest of the day and was sore for days after. Fast forward to now: I haven’t actually raced a half since 2010, so I really don’t know what I could do it in.  In Boston I reached the half marathon point in 1:35, and last year I ran a few marathons where I was reaching the half point in 1:30-1:31. I’m not sure what that corresponds to if I were actually racing the distance, but one day (soon) I’d like to find out. Maybe in the fall. I have my eye on a few local ones.

What was so special about being a pacer at this race was that I got to pace the race that got this whole running thing started for me, and I got to lead the pace group that it all started with. I know the other pacers that are involved with this event have been involved for a long time, and they are phenomenal runners. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them led the pace groups the year I ran for the first time. I wish I could say that I ran with a pace group that first time and had a great experience, but lets be real. Back in 2007, I had no idea what a Garmin was, let alone a pacer.

Regardless, as I ran the course on Sunday with that task, it was such a blast. I got to the gym at William Allen High School early because I wanted to find a good parking spot near the finish line. In the gym, I stayed warm as I chatted with other pacers, friends, and runners who were looking to run with a pacer. As it got closer to the start time, the pacers met in a corner of the gym and anyone looking to run with a pacer made their way over. We lined up in order, and began walking to the starting line. Since it’s a pretty large field of runners, it took about a minute until we actually crossed the starting line. I started my watch as soon as we crossed.

imageMy goal was to get across the finish line within 30 seconds of my goal time (1:50), and I finished right on time, in 1:49:45! I started with a large group of runners, and the start is pretty downhill. One thing that’s tough about pacing is since the pace feels comfortable for me, going a few seconds faster seems like no big deal. But a few seconds faster for the group you are pacing could destroy their day – this is their goal pace to achieve a PR. If they followed a training plan, all of their tempo runs, track workouts, and half marathon paced runs were based on running this pace – not faster – and it is really important to consider that at the start of a race. A few seconds too fast could mean a very long, difficult day for some. My goal pace for a perfect 1:50 was 8:24, but to try to bring it in 30 seconds under I was shooting for an 8:22 average. My goal was to go out closer to an 8:30 and then speed up to an 8:20 until the parkway, where I figured we would slow down. The first mile is significantly down hill and ended up being an 8:20, so I was conscious not to go any faster at that point.

Most of the group stuck with me until we reached Lehigh Parkway, where the course tightens up and there are some hills. I lost some runners there – either they went ahead of me and took off, or dropped back. I stayed with a few of them and picked up some new ones. There was a girl wearing a 2015 Boston shirt, so I chatted with her for a little while. It was her first Boston, and it was fun to hear about her experience.

As we came out of the parkway for the final 2.5 miles of the race, I could see the pain on some of the runner’s faces – a pain that I know all too well. I encouraged them to keep running and smiling because we only had 2.5 miles left at this point – and for those that trained for a half marathon, 2.5 miles is nothing! I kept a consistent pace through the finish and picked up a few runners along the way. If I saw someone walking, I encouraged them to run it in with me. Some listened and tagged along. As we hit the track at J Birney Crum Stadium, we had almost a full lap until we reached the finish line. I crossed with Tracy, one of the runners that started with me. She hugged me and was excited to meet her goal. I stopped and waited for a few of the other runners that started with me to cross, and a bunch of people came over and thanked me – I didn’t even know that they were following me! It was so rewarding.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to pace that race again, but I’m grateful for having the opportunity to do it this year. I really missed that course, and I can’t think of a better way to recover from Boston.

Recovery Week: 4/20-4/26

When I evaluate my training schedule, my week always starts on a Monday. My coach operates the same way. So it’s kind of funny to look at this past week on paper. It’s a recovery week, but it somehow includes a marathon and (SPOILER ALERT if you missed my last post!) a half-marathon. Ha! One week post Boston, and I’m happy with the way my recovery is going. I hoped that since I was past the race I would go for my first run and find myself completely free of Achilles pain. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case but I am noticing aN improvement. If I’m feeling improvement after running a freaking marathon, then I’d say I am on the right track. I am finding that I can run easy miles without trouble, but I’m hesitant to add any speed. I shouldn’t be adding speed work anyway – the marathon was only a week ago.

Since the marathon was last Monday, I spent Tuesday and Wednesday resting.  I usually make an effort to get to the pool or on my yoga mat post marathon. I drove home after the marathon on Monday and got home late. I was completely beat. In reflecting on the day, I was up at 4am on Monday and basically spent almost 12 hours in race mode. Up at 4, at the T by 5:30, board the bus to Hopkinton, race, and travel back to my aunt’s in Brookline. By that time it was about 4 p.m. We got on the road by 5 p.m, and I was the driver. Back in our neck of the woods, I dropped my friend Ashley at her house and then finally went home. It was after 11 p.m. I took the next day off of work and spent my day sleeping and recovering. it was much needed!

As the week progressed, my coach gave me a loose plan of some workouts but we both agree that when you are recovering from a race, you just kind of have to do what you feel like doing. You spend your whole training cycle fitting in runs, cross training, strength training, stretching (in my case, also in physical therapy) and preparing for race day. Usually, I don’t turn my life completely upside down for it, but I did this time around. That always seems to happen when I’m trying to train for a marathon with an injury.

So, here’s what my week looked like:

Monday: We already covered this 🙂

imageTuesday – Rest. I slept, went for a massage, and made sure to replenish all of the calories (and probably a few extra) that I burned the day before. Walking around, I didn’t feel sore. In my massage, I noticed my quads and my right calf were the tightest areas. I went to watch our school’s track meet because I run with a few of the girls and I have a good rapport with most of the runners on the team (go figure). It was so much fun! The two girls I run with regularly ran the 4×800 and the 3200. They did well in the 4×8 but didn’t win – but in the two mile, they took 1st and 2nd.

imageWednesday – Rest. I went back to work. Many of the kids asked me about Boston, and their was a big drawing on my board from the kids tracking me with my time. It was really sweet and I was so touched! I mentioned at school on Friday to all of my classes that I would be out on Monday and I told them why, but I didn’t realize how many of them actually listened to me! Throughout the day as my classes changed and kids walked in most of them were excited to ask how it went. So sweet.

It was such a good day, and I felt pretty good and even considered doing something after work, but my couch won. I feel like I don’t get to do that too often so I just went with it.

imageThursday – An easy swim and a recovery run, and some core work. Felt great to get in the pool in the morning and get moving, and running after work actually felt sort of awesome. The trail I run on has a slight downhill grade on the way out and is a little uphill on the way back, so I actually felt like nothing had happened on the way out. The little uphill grade kicked my butt a little on the way back, ha! Interestingly enough, my Achilles felt great on the way out but somewhat achy on the way back. Still, it was better than it’s been so hopefully it will keep improving. I wasn’t so into the core work so I kind of just half-assed it – I’ll get back to it next week. I like being unstructured for a week. Thursday was also the day I did my little celebrity bartender gig for a local charity. Fun times!

Friday – I met with my coach after school to discuss Boston and the upcoming races on my schedule. I’m technically not signed up for anything, but I have a few ideas of what I want to do next. I kind of want to see how my Achilles responds to my recovery before I spend money on anything. I got asked to pace a half marathon for Sunday, and I agreed because the pace group was 1:50. The 1:40 pacer wanted me to switch with him and I considered it, but I don’t want to aggravate my Achilles AND Boston was less than a week ago so I decided to stick with 1:50. After meeting with my coach, I headed to Lehigh Parkway to run the hilly part of the course and see how my legs felt holding the pace necessary to accomplish a 1:50 finish time. It felt great!

imageSaturday – I got invited to go to our local news studio to talk about running in Boston! I didn’t realize I’d be the only runner there. The guy said it was my 3rd Boston and a PR, but in reality it was my 5th Boston and just a PR for that course – I was about 8 minutes off my marathon PR! I had no idea what I agreed to when I got asked to do this and thought I’d be among other marathoners so I felt a little weird. Being in the studio was really exciting! At any rate, here it is (I tried embedding the video into my blog but not sure how well it worked out!):  http://www.kaltura.com/index.php/kwidget/wid/1_gas5dtvm/uiconf_id/11824851

After my 15 minutes of “fame” (LOL I felt sooooo awkward!) I headed out on my bike for an “easy” bike ride that turned out to be anything BUT easy! Emily and I rode 30 miles, which is usually not a problem. But I haven’t been out on my bike much this year, and the route was SO hilly! The first 10 miles of the ride were crazy climbs. I can usually keep up enough to ride side by side when it’s safe or to at least sit on her back tire but I was definitely not in the kind of cycling shape I thought I was. It was ROUGH and I was a little concerned about my Sunday pacing duties after that.

imageSunday – Ended up feeling great and successfully paced the 1:50 pace group at the St. Luke’s Half Marathon. I held an even 8:20 pace for every mile until the hills in the parkway, when I slowed to goal pace (8:24). It’s hard to keep an even pace in the parkway not because of the hills – because of the amount of people running on a small cinder path. This year seemed more crowded than ever. I held goal pace through the finish and crossed the finish line in 1:49:45! My job was to be in the neighborhood of 30 seconds under. Success! It was awesome to pace that race. I’ll post more on that soon!

How was your week? Are you recovering from any races? Did you race over the weekend? How did it go?

From 26.2 to 13.1?!

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!

imageimage

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

There’s Only One Boston!

IMG_9051

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.

IMG_9054

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!

IMG_8988

Moving Forward and Building Confidence

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!

20140424-103738.jpg