Questioning my (running) decisions

Yesterday’s 10 mile run in Chestertown was hot, humid, slightly hilly, beautiful, and HARD. I’ve been dealing with plantar fasciitis for at least six months. I think I had the beginnings of it going into the Philly Marathon in November and didn’t let it rest after that.

After months of alternately treating it and trying to pretend like it doesn’t exist, it flared up big time in the middle of a run, which normally doesn’t happen.

I had a long drawn out (obviously drawn out.. Got nothing but time on a long run) conversation with myself about my running goals for the year.

After Philly I swore I wasn’t going to run a marathon this year. Two years in a row I had mediocre training and got through a marathon by the seat of my pants. Working full time with all the other things I like to do really doesn’t lend itself to a schedule conducive for training to be competitive (with myself).

It’s time I’m honest with myself and realize that yes, I love running but no, I have no huge desire to run anything longer than about 6-8 miles right now. It’s okay to not sign up for all the races. It’s okay to not be constantly training for a half or full. Just because I’ve done marathons in the past doesn’t mean I have to keep doing them.

Like my husband (and therapist) tell me, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. That includes all the other things I like to be involved in.

Over the past several months through tracking my food and calories, I have proven to myself that I don’t need to be running an obscene amount of miles in order to stay fit or lose weight. In fact, I’d say my eating is better when I’m not burning ridiculous amounts of calories on long runs.

Summer is not usually a time of introspection for me, but the tough run yesterday has prompted me to reevaluate my running goals and become honest with myself. I look forward to the rest of 2018 as a year when I stop doing things I don’t want to do, and I rest when needed. Easier said than done, right?

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Beautiful Pain: Maryland Half Marathon Report

My first race in Maryland is complete. Done. Over. And boy, are my legs feeling it.

MD half

After we moved, I had my sights set on completing a half marathon. 13.1 miles is actually not my go-to distance. I ran a marathon before I ever ran a half. The distance of 13.1 is deceiving, at least to me. With okay training I can work up to, say, an 8-miler. And 8 miles starts to feel good. But it’s the dark place between 8 and double digits that’s not my favorite.

fulton md

Early this morning we drove down to Fulton, MD, which between Baltimore and Washington, DC. I don’t mind I-95 at all in the early hours of the weekend. Weather was good – it was cool and sunny. This spring has been quite cold and rainy, so the sun was a welcome sight.

Mile 1: 11:32 | Mile 2: 11:33 | Mile 3: 11:38

I felt good starting out, but I knew that I went out too fast. I knew this race was hilly, and I was ready for the challenge. Despite missing some runs in March because of life events, I had done almost all long runs on the hilly country roads around my town. So I felt pretty confident.

Mile 4: 12:27 | Mile 5: 11:39 | Mile 6: 12:24

The hills persisted, and so did I. I skipped the first water stop, but walked the rest of the stops. I could really begin to feel the effects of the warmer weather and the sun. There wasn’t much shade on this course, and I could tell I was sweating more than normal. My body was working hard to keep me cool.

MD half course elev

Mile 7: 12:36 | Mile 8: 12:19

I don’t remember much of these miles except for the hills. Every time we came around a bend in the road, I looked forward to see what was coming next. If there was a downhill, it didn’t last long. But the reprieve was welcome just the same.

Mile 9: 13:38 | Mile 10: 13:01

These miles were a dark, dark mental place for this resurfacing long distance runner. I had taken two gels and drank Nuun consistently but still was feeling fatigued. It was at this point about 20 degrees warmer than I’d trained in. I had told Aaron that it’d take me ‘about 2 hours and 30 minutes’ for this race, and I knew at this point that that was not going to happen. I texted him and told him that ‘I hit the wall hard’. A wall in a half marathon? It happens. I even had the thought, ‘Well, if I just walk the rest of the way, I can still finish in 3 hours.’

My sister Leah suggested some songs for my playlist, and one of the songs was “Beautiful Pain” by Eminem. I have to be honest: I’ve always been a closet fan. I don’t know his songs by heart but I appreciate the honesty about life that always comes through in his music. So this song came on right as I started down a huge downhill and into a clearing of trees that melted into farmland.

I can feel the heat rising
Everything is on fire
Today is a painful reminder of why
We can only get brighter
The further you put it behind ya
But right now I’m on the inside
Lookin out, cause
I’m standing in the flames
It’s a beautiful kind of pain
Setting fire to yesterday
Find the light, find the light, find the light…
...Cause they hurt you so bad, it’s like they murdered your ass
And threw dirt on your casket, but you returned from the ashes
And that hurt that you have, you just converted to gasoline…
…So familiarize with what having to swallow this pill is like
It happens all the time, they take your heart and steal your life
And it’s as though you feel you’ve died because you’ve been killed inside
But yet you’re still alive which means you must survive…
Running has always been an emotional experience for me, and this song and downhill were there when I needed them. I felt vindicated of whatever emotional pain, grief, or struggling I’d either been a victim of or put myself through recently.

Mile 11: 12:13 | Mile 12: 14:05 | Mile 13: 13:43

These miles were tough, but the dark cloud of hopelessness that I could get through this race was gone. I switched up my strategy (as if I had one to begin with…) to alternating running and walking.

Chip time: 2:45:39 | Garmin time: 2:44:35  | Garmin pace: 12:30/mi

I hit my Plan C. Plan A was 2:30. Plan B was 2:40. Plan C was to hit my time from the Flying Horse Half in October (the worst race I’ve run…. ever). I would say this race was even tougher mentally than Transmountain, just because that race had one giant hill mountain whereas this one had hill after hill after hill.

Now to rest and get ready for Marine Corps Marathon training that begins the last week of June. I’m working on losing more weight before training starts because carrying around extra weight makes you slower. Who knew? 😉 I’m currently reading up on the Hansons Marathon Method and gearing up for putting much more mileage than I did for my first marathon (Illinois).

Biggest take away from today: Must. Train. On. More. Hills. Thankfully, even the hills have mercy in every mile.

2016-05-14 18.39.19

Foundation = Built

I’m less than two weeks away from racing the Maryland Half Marathon. I haven’t officially trained (well) for a race since the Transmountain Challenge Half Marathon in October 2013. For the past two years, I took it easy with running and exercising, and depression and busyness prevented me from keeping up well with working out and eating to nourish my body.

When we moved to Maryland four months ago, I thought it was a good opportunity to start over… in a lot of ways. So I found a spring half marathon, wrote up my training plan, and got to work.

Total miles since January: 203.54 miles

  • January: 12.7 miles/pace unknown. Slow!
  • February: 56.98 miles / 12:12 average pace
  • March: 51.17 miles / 11:49 average pace
  • April: 82.69 miles / 12:32 average pace

In general, my plan calls for three runs per week: a speed workout, regular run, and long run. For the past few weeks, my long runs have been alternating between increasing mileage (9, 10, 11, 12) and an 8-miler on the alternating weeks. I followed a similar plan in 2013 and saw great success.

Over the past few months, I’ve missed quite a few mid-week runs, but I’ve never missed a long run. Most of my running has been on hills. It doesn’t matter which direction I head when I leave my house to run, or even if I drive somewhere to run – it’s hilly.

elevation snip
Elevation Profile from my 12-miler on Saturday

Two weeks ago I did an 11-miler where the average pace was 12:16, and Saturday I did the same route and added a mile and my average pace was 11:40, and I didn’t walk any of the hills. The half has a total elevation gain/loss of 1029 ft, so I’d say I’m ready for that. Today at the gym I did a speed workout, and I shaved five minutes off my time since I did the same workout in March. Pretty darn proud of that.

It seems that I’ve built up a good base, and just in time for the half. At the end of June, I’ll be starting training for the Marine Corps Marathon on October 30. I’m so excited about this race as it’s been on my running bucket list for awhile. I spent some time this weekend writing out the plan. I’ll be using Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 plan, which calls for 4 runs per week, one day of cross training, and 2 days of rest. I think after building this base and staying ‘half marathon ready’ until the end of June, I’ll be ready to tackle the higher mileage.

 

March 5 | Focus

Focus

The ability to focus on one thing for a long period of time is glorified in our society. A Lenten promise to focus on for six weeks. A plan for a half marathon that lasts 12 weeks. A new eating plan that is supposed to last… forever? If you stick with it, you’re a hero, and if you fall off the wagon, you failed.

I’ve tried all these types of intense focus, from marathon training plans, to Lenten/Advent habits or rituals, eating plans.. and to be honest, I always fail somewhere along the way. I miss a day, have one too many cheat meals, just don’t feel like running that weekend. And I feel down about it.

So in order to have more focus in my life, I’ve tried setting more measurable and specific goals. Instead of saying, okay, I’m going to commit 100% to this half marathon plan, I’m going to look at the plan for every day. Narrow the scope a bit so it feels much more doable. Sure, I’ll probably hit 90% of the runs for the plan because if I don’t,  I won’t have a good race, but I also allow some leeway in there just in case.

This is not to discourage wholehearted attempts at creating new patterns or habits, especially if they’re healthy or good ones. I just refuse to look at it as a do-or-die thing. I keep my focus by getting to the heart of it: I see the benefits it has for my life, whether it’s keeping up with a daily devotional, running 3-4 times a week, or eating less ice cream (sad!). I’m much more motivated and focused when I’m not a slave to whatever plan I ascribe to, but rather a willing and involved participant.

Running update.

I haven’t posted here about my running in a really long time. I’ve posted about running getting me through infertility, but I think this was the last real post about training. We (my husband and I) had signed up for the IMS Arizona Marathon because it was super cheap, and relatively close to where we used to live. Well, Valentine’s Day weekend came and went without us running that race, mostly because we live in Maryland now. So there’s that.

md462.jpg
View from a neighborhood run

I decided after the move that I needed to get back into training. For my body, for my mind, for fun. I don’t want this to be a post about infertility because honestly I’m sick of talking and thinking about it, but I gained 25 lbs in the past two years due to stress, taking time off of hard workouts, overeating, etc. I was starting to wallow… anyone who’s dealt with depression/anxiety knows how this works… and I was close to signing up for therapy again.

But, I’m happy to report that I’m out of my funk, thanks to running and a change of life circumstances, and God. Aaron’s no longer leaving for months on end, or working unexpected nights or 24-hour CQ shifts because now he has a ‘regular’ job. It’s fantastic. And amazing. And I’m so glad we got through the past 6.5 years with the Army for him to have this opportunity. I’m also working, but part time, and really enjoying the time it allows me to have to clean, cook, take care of things, but also to use my ESOL expertise. At first, moving to Maryland in the middle of the academic year was not my first choice, but it’s turned out to be a wonderful decision.

ssp1
Trails at Susquehanna State Park

So, with all that said, I’m running the Maryland Half Marathon in May. Not officially, as I haven’t signed up yet, but it’s on my calendar. Last week was week 3 of training, I think, and I ran 15 miles total. A Yasso 800’s workout, just a plain old run, and a long run of 6 miles. We bought new shoes this weekend so hopefully that’ll help some of the stiffness I’ve had in the first couple miles of my runs. Overall, I’ve been happy with my paces and my motivation to do each run. And the endorphins, you can’t forget the endorphins!

After the half, I’d like to train for a fall marathon, and then set my sights on a spring 50K. I’ve had this goal for most of my 20’s to do a 31-mile (50K) race before my 31st birthday, which will be next April. Barring injury or other crazy life circumstances, I don’t see why that can’t happen. And the Mid-Atlantic area is full of wonderful races to choose from.

Day 4 | Empty

Empty

The word ’empty’ usually has a negative connotation. For me, it doesn’t. The picture above reminds me of a abandoned storehouse of some sort close to my hometown. It’s out in the fields, all by itself, and it serves as a landmark on the local interstate. I always thought it was pretty in a shabby chic kind of way, like it hearkened back to a different time.

When Jesus was resurrected from His earthly tomb, the fact that it was now empty was cause for celebration. It had been abandoned because He now lives. Empty = positive connotation.

Part of my spiritual journey has taken place in my numerous pairs of running shoes in varying states of wear. Today I did my long run on the treadmill because it’s just too cold to do it outside. But I felt the same sense of emptiness after my run. Running, for me, is cathartic and empties me of not just sweat, but also bad attitudes, anxiety, and fear. It leaves me empty and ready to face the rest of the day.

When I was training for a half marathon a couple years ago, the running group I was part of met on Sunday mornings for the long runs. I would get up super early, drive to meet up with them in the dark. We would run and usually as we crested the top of the first big hill, we saw the sun rise in all its Southwestern glory. After the run, I’d shower and then go to church.

During that time as well, my husband was deployed, 7,000 miles away. I needed God tremendously during that time, and going to church after I’d spent my physical and mental energy running around mountains gave me an opportunity to really receive everything each Sunday morning. I came to church empty of my own wants, desires, and attitudes. I was vulnerable.

So, that abandoned building near the interstate is overgrown now with animals and foliage, I’m sure, but it’s empty of itself. It’s served a purpose and is now a vessel ready to be used or changed into something new.

Readings for today:

Running for an experience

Training for a fall half marathon officially started at the beginning of July. Through the rest of my summer job, my parents’ visit, and our trip to Arkansas, I’d say I’ve done a good job staying on track with training.

I have to continually catch myself when I compare this round of training to that of two years ago when I was training for the Transmountain Challenge Half. Circumstances “back then” (2013 is really back then?!) were quite different: my husband was deployed so I had nothing but time, I was 20 pounds lighter (thanks post-deployment comfort food and laziness), and I had already been building a base and consistently running before I started training.

This time around, my main goal is to finish the 13.1 [flat!] miles with a respectable time. My paces recently have been slow but consistent, and I have negative splits more often than not. I’ve missed cross-training, unless you count walking a mile with my dog every other day. I’ve also missed a couple speed workouts. One of those I skipped in order to run/hike in the Hot Spring National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and it was well worth it.

Another change for this season of training is that I rarely take music. This really surprises me, because running can be a huge mental challenge and music tends to soften the blow a bit. But yesterday, I opted to go to a local park with a mile-long paved trail to do my 800’s, and all I took was my car key and my trusty four-year-old Garmin. Otherwise, I have to put my phone in the sleeve and hook up my earbuds… to be honest, I’ve just been kind of lazy about keeping track of all that gear.

The major advent for me with no music was several weeks ago on a Tuesday night. I was tired from eight hours of teaching writing, but somehow at 8:30pm I got a wild desire to go out and do my four miles I’d neglected earlier in the day. The last light of the day was sinking over the mountains, but I decided to literally make a run for it.

I ran through my neighborhood and took a familiar route, but at night and with no music it seemed completely different. Normally I run early in the morning, oftentimes before the sun’s rays graze the tops of the Hueco Mountains in the distance. This time, people were out and about, and I observed an informal soccer game in the park lit bright with stadium lights. The temperature had dropped significantly due to storms rolling in, so I breathed in the fresh air (in the Southwest summer, this means 75*) and watched the twilight fade in the west and distant lightning dance in the east.

It was so simple: a run with only my Polar watch (no distance needed since I knew the route) and no music. I returned home tired and happy, ready to tackle another day after a good night’s sleep.

Since that run, I’ve been running to have an experience, whether with the sunrise, the sunset, a storm brewing, the scent of juniper and mesquite. I’ve accepted my new-ish curvier body, and also that it can do what I ask it to do, and that I can’t compare my achievements now with those of two years ago.

Running takes us through change. If you let it, it will graciously hold your hand and forge a path through literal and figurative curved tunnels, concrete arroyos, soft dirt trails, and rugged mountains. I’ll take its hand and run.