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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It’ll be a busy running year

I updated my races for this year and man, looks like I’ll be busy racing all over Delmarva (local name for the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula). I am not running any full-length marathons this year. My goal was to be half-ready at any point in time, and I’m almost there. Truth be told, my training for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in DC has been very relaxed. I’ve worked up to 8 miles for a long run at a respectable pace and then put in a couple more runs per week, about 3-4 miles total.

Something broke loose within me during the last few miles of Philly. Actually, it started around mile 15 when I was feeling pretty down-trodden. I do this running thing for fun. It’s not a job, I will never be sponsored or featured in a magazine, I will never be super speedy without working my butt off to get there. Why slog through it and hate on myself with negative talk? It’s just not worth the effort to be like that.

So this year I’m doing a few half marathons. After starting the racing/running season off with the 10 miler, I’ll be doing a half marathon in Canada with my sister who will be doing her first half ever (!!!). Then I’ll train through a hot muggy East Coast summer to do the inaugural Susquehanna River Running Festival half right here in our new hometown. I have a thing with running across bridges, apparently.

Something new to me this year is running races with friends. I’ve been a solo runner for basically my whole running life, but I have a few friends who are into running local races. This fall I’ll be doing the running portion of a sprint triathlon – I will never do swim or bike portions! – and then I’ll be a 1/4 of a Baltimore Marathon relay team with my fellow Sunday School co-teacher.

I’ll close out the season with the Annapolis Running Festival half marathon in beautiful historic Annapolis. Super excited for this race because that late in the fall it’s bound to be cool enough to really reap all the rewards of training through the summer. Maybe I’ll PR my half….

Now, all of this will only be possible if I can keep this darned plantar fasciitis in my left foot from being too much of a nuisance. It seems that shoes more suited for stability (Brooks Ravenna) have helped, as well as inserts with arch support. Those things plus stretching + yoga have been great for this darn heel.

I have enjoyed running around this area since moving here two years ago. There’s such a robust running community and so many options for different kinds (and prices!) of races, both close to home and a little drive away.

Fulfilled

For the past couple years I’ve been on a quest to find out what on this earth makes me feel fulfilled. What can I do, where can I go, that makes me feel the best kind of emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. I haven’t quite found the pot of gold yet but I know for certain one thing that fills the gap is long distance running.

I never wrote a Philly Marathon race report, partially because I was busy, partially because I was lazy, and lastly because the last three miles of 26 shifted my perspective in a big way and I didn’t quite want to share it yet.

It’s not a secret really: do what you do because you’re motivated to do it, and the only person stopping you is you. Thats it. But it’s something I’ve been battling within my soul.

Once I gave myself permission to break through the confines of pain, exhaustion, and basically any physical barrier, my mind was free to control my body instead of the other way around.

I no longer felt dread or like I was slogging my unwilling body through the mud step by step. Instead, I felt like I was truly free and fulfilled for the first time in probably 2 or 3 years.

The high lasted for little more than 12 hours. When I came down, I came down hard but I knew what to expect. My first question was how to feel like this not just again, but always. I think I might spend the rest of my life trying to figure that out.

Philly Marathon Training Update

When I think of training for a race, I automatically evaluate it with a “good” or “not so good” or some other adjective to describe what I perceive it’s been like. Truth is, every day I get out there and pound the pavement in search of health (physical and mental), it’s a good day. And it’s a good training cycle.

Recently I’ve been down on myself about my paces. Why I’m not faster. Why some runs just feel soΒ slllooowww. I try to find reasons, justifications, for why this could be. I compare myself to other runners on specifically Instagram, who provide inspiration, but who also are in a literal different league than I am running-wise. And that’s okay.

My health has been a struggle for a couple years. I’m talking about collective physical, mental, and emotional health. When I found out I was hypothyroid, my doctor said he couldn’t believe I had the energy to train for a marathon (last year, Marine Corps). The thing is, I didn’t. I absolutely didn’t.

This year feels so much better. I’m still staring down this next 26.2 and wondering some days how it’ll get done, but it will. So far I haven’t been plagued by sickness or injury. Let me just say that yours truly knows how to do rest days. I’ve been practicing yoga a couple days a week which has helped immensely with all around strength and flexibility. My chiropractor is happy about that development for sure.

The weather here in Maryland has finally broken – it now feels like fall even though the calendar has told us that it is for almost a month. I hope to see paces get faster and to feel all around better during and after runs. A downside to the changing season is the darkness in the morning. I waffle back and forth on whether I like the peace or whether it freaks me out. I invested in this running flashlightΒ to help me not wipe out like I did a few weeks ago. I’m sure it’ll get a lot of use in the coming months.

It’s around this time of year that I think about moving my running schedule to after work. Some days, running after work is necessary, but truth be told I love having it done early. That cup of coffee post run is just so so sweet, and I can focus so much better at work not thinking about how I have to run after.

I’m ever so slowly finding a mind shift when it comes to running. Instead of thinking, “I have to run today,” I can say, “I get to run today.” That’s what it’s really all about.

Charm City 20-Miler, Take 2

I’m enjoying the AC on this apparently ‘fall’ day, wearing my newly earned race shirt and curled up under my blanket. Actually, my legs are resting on the ottoman becauseΒ ouch. I just ran, or killed, 20 miles through the beautiful woods of central Maryland. You can read last year’s report here. You’ll also read a lot of “last year”s because the comparison is quite interesting.

I wasn’t quite as impulsive about signing up for this race as I was last year, but I was more apprehensive. The marathon I’m training for (Philadelphia) doesn’t happen until November 19, a full 3-4 weeks later than the Marine Corps Marathon I did last year. Naturally, I have less training behind me this year, and that made me nervous. I feel like I’ve been more consistent with training, but the longest run I’d done up until today was 15 miles. Just 5 more, right? That’s what I told myself. Until I saw the weather forecast.

Last year it was a cool and lovely 46*. This year we started with 67* with forecast highs into the high 80s, low 90s. Fortunately the vast majority of the trail is shaded and we begin in a valley, so it definitely could have been worse conditions. I knew that hydrating was even more important that usual with those temps. I drank probably 50 oz of Nuun (plus whatever water and Gatorade I got at water stops) and still downed a 16 oz bottle of water at the finish.

My pace overall this year was 11:54, only 5 seconds faster than last year’s pace of 11:59. Strava tells a different story (11:31) as well as Fitbit (11:39), but around mile 17-18 I lost GPS so that could have messed with the numbers.

Mentally I was in the game the whole time. I never felt like I wouldn’t finish or do well. I encouraged others on the trail, too, not something I normally do, to be honest. I usually just keep my head down and plodding away. But like I learned at Marine Corps last year, there’s something that happens physiologically when you encourage others, high five, or let out any exclamation of positivity.

I ran without music the first 10 miles and then rocked from 10 until the end. Miles 8-13 were the toughest mentally, but looking at my paces I was pretty steady and staying within my long run training range of 11:18-11:48.

My plan now is to have another peak run of 20 miles sometime in late October, and then taper for Philadelphia on November 19!

 

Running with the Marines

On Sunday, October 30, 2016, I toed the line for my third ever marathon. I ran Illinois in 2011 and Bataan Memorial Death March in 2012. This marathon had been on my mind since I won entry via the lottery back in March.

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Sign my colleague put on our office door

 

My training was pretty solid as far as long runs go. I had started out this training cycle with high hopes of using Hansons’ marathon method, but since I started my new full-time teaching job and had other commitments, that wasn’t going to happen. So I backed down to a Higdon Novice marathon plan. I’m glad I did because I had just enough time in my week to get my runs in.

I came into this marathon having almost 3 months of 100+ mile months, the most mileage I’ve completed when training for any race. I had done a 17, 18, 20, and final 18-miler for my super-long runs. My paces were right about 12:00. It’s slow for me.. but I’m also still about 10 lbs heavier than I was 4-5 years ago. During this cycle (since May), I’ve lost about 20 pounds, and aimed to keep my weight steady during taper. I had some tendonitis in my left leg, but thankfully I had zero issues with it on Sunday.

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National Harbor, where packet pickup was hosted

I had been feeling under the weather last week, which I knew was going to happen eventually. It’s inevitable when you work with young children (kindergarten to fifth grade). I didn’t feel too hot on Saturday when we drove down to DC for packet pickup. My appetite wasn’t normal, so I just ate whatever sounded good. For Saturday, it was a Big Mac with fries.

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At packet pickup

While we were in town on Saturday, we (my husband and I) did a super short shakeout run and a little sightseeing.

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I didn’t sleep well Friday or Saturday nights, and was worried I would feel awful come Sunday morning. However, after getting to DC Sunday morning, parking, and getting to Runner’s Village near the start, I began to feel better and my headache subsided.

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Ready to roll. At the Wear Blue expo booth on Saturday, I adopted a fallen Airman to run for on Sunday.

I dropped off my bag and ran over to the Wear Blue circle of remembrance. I FINALLY got to meet my lovely friend Natalie after years of knowing her.

It took less time to cross the start line than I anticipated.We were off under a beautiful sunrise. It was warm even before we started running, and I knew to anticipate a warm day. I stayed hydrated and fueled for the entire race. Anytime I felt the slightest pang of hunger, I ate the Gatorade chews I’d packed. There were some awesome food stations giving out oranges, energy gels, sport beans, and even spectators with Halloween candy.

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Around mile 10

All in all, I had an awesome race. I enjoyed most miles, even the tough ones (21-25). I had made a decision prior to race day that there’s no reason to not enjoy myself because how amazing was it that I got to run through one of the coolest cities in America? I had pushed through so many hurdles during training that I was more than mentally ready for the marathon.

I wish I’d had pictures from the Wear Blue mile, where pictures of fallen military were lined up in remembrance of their sacrifice. I saw Natalie’s brother’s picture as well as my friend Rachel’s husband’s photo. I touched them both as I ran by and said a prayer.

I never hit the wall, and I attribute this to continually fueling and hydrating throughout. Around mile 20, my legs and feet just started to hurt.. pretty typical for a marathon if you ask me. Lots of people were walking, and it was tempting to join them. However, I tried to reason as logically as I could, and reasoned that it was going to hurt whether I walked or ran, so I might as well run and get done faster. So run I did.

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Around mile 17-18, and yes, that is the US Capitol in the background. ‘Murica.

Around mile 22 or 23 when we got to Crystal City, we were running out and backs. So, in order to distract myself and provide some encouragement, I started to call out other Wear Blue runners on the other side of the cones. It helped! I felt better, I got smiles from them, and those miles went by.

The finish was going to be uphill – I had looked at the elevation profile. I saw Aaron about 1/4 mile away from the finish, and that was an awesome boost. I crossed the finish line and made my way to the chute to get my medal from a Marine. I met up with Aaron at the Finisher’s Festival, got my obligatory (and free) beer, downed some Gatorade, and tried my best to hobble my way to pick up my drop bag.

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All smiles after a strong finish

We got to the Rosslyn Metro station and rode the blue line back to Federal Triangle, not too far from where we parked at the Reagan building.Β Then we drove home. (How cool is it that we live in driving distance of DC?!)

My overall time was 5:34:53, and my pace was 12:46. It was 12:32 according to my Garmin, where it says I ran 26.65 actual miles. I was happy with that pace. The course itself wasn’t very hilly, but after 18 or so miles, hills start to feel like mountains. But I didn’t ever walk a hill. It was warm – on the way home, the temp was around 82*. On my longest run during training, I ran a 12:00 pace on completely flat ground.

I’d say that this was an awesome way to ‘come back’ to long distance running. I will still work on losing about 10 more lbs to get down to where I maintained my weight for several years. With this race, I felt I truly overcame any mental hurdles to long distance running. There was a point when nothing was going to make me keep running except for me. Not music, not a breeze, not the energy of spectators. I had to just decide to do it and follow through.

I highly recommend the MCM – it’s extremely well-organized, from packet pickup to riding the Metro around. The sights are gorgeous, and fall in Maryland is beautiful.

What’s next? I’m looking ahead to a spring half and the Philadelphia Marathon next fall. Must run all the East Coast marathons!

 

 

 

NCR 20-Miler Recap

I should probably be lesson planning right now, but meh. It’s Wednesday. It’s rainy, windy and cool outside. I’m wearing a sweatshirt and not roasting. It’s finally fall.

And what better way to welcome fall than some running through the woods this weekend? The trees haven’t really started changing yet, but it was a lovely 46* starting out on Sunday.

I didn’t know even 24 hours before the race started that I’d be running it. I have to say I’veΒ never been so impulsive about signing up for a race. However, I’ve been training for the Marine Corps Marathon coming up in only a month (!!!!!) and I needed to do a long run anyway.

The NCR 20 Miler was on my radar a few months ago as a good way to get in a 20-miler without having to go it alone, but I forgot about it until I saw a post on Instagram. So if you’re wondering if advertising on Instagram works, well, it does. I drove down to Timonium to the running store to sign up and pick up my packet all in the same day. I mean, who wouldn’t want that awesome shirt?!

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My husband and I got up around 5:15 on Sunday morning, not too much later than when we wake up during the week. I have to say, that’s one thing I’ve really gotten disciplined about: getting up early and running before the sun even peeks over the horizon.

We got coffee on our way out of town (naturally) and drove up to Freeland, MD, just off I-83 and about 2 miles from the Mason-Dixon line (Pennsylvania border). It was a beautiful drive, mostly country roads, and we watched the sun rise.

The race was a point-to-point, so he dropped me off and drove down to Cockeysville, conveniently 20 miles south of Freeland. πŸ˜‰ He hung out and drank coffee and did a little writing of his own while I ran.

I had my sights set on running a 12:00 pace, which would put me at 4 hours. That’s much slower than I’ve run long distance races in the past, but this is a new day. I’m heavier than I was 5-6 years ago while training for my first marathon. I’ve been dealing with this nagging calf/soleus pain in my left leg. I suspect that it might be caused by my shoes, but I’d like to not shell out a buck fifty for another pair quite yet.

Per the website, there were no headphones allowed on the trail. I ran the first 10-11 miles with no music. Just me, the trees, the sounds of nature, and the occasional cyclist or runner coming the opposite way. Let me tell you, it is a major victory for me to be able to run and enjoy it without headphones. After about mile 11, I turned on some music on my phone in the front pocket of my Nathan hydration pack. It was the perfect boost I needed between miles 10-15.

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20 miles of this? Yes, please.

My fuel for the race was a small iced coffee and pumpkin donut from Dunkin (apparently Dunkin is a big thing on the East Coast.. they’re everywhere…) and a couple Gatorade chews. For some reason, I have not been favoring GU gels, or really gels of any sort, this training cycle. The texture and taste are generally unappetizing. So I’ve been picking up these Gatorade chews from Walmart. They’re very similar to gummy candy, which I love, so it’s a good choice. I filled my Nathan pack with water and Nuun tablets. I’ve been using Nuun for about a year now and have never had any issues.

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Monkton, MD, a stop along the trail

Once I hit mile 17, I knew I had it in the bag. I saw lots of people who had passed me early on walking and looking like they were hurting. I told myself, “I’ll be damned if I come out and do this run and not finish strong.” So I did.

The last mile came out onto a road that was pretty hilly. Since I’ve been running hills since I moved to Maryland, it was no big deal. I powered through and had my second fastest mile (11:11). I finished in 3:59:33, pace 11:59. One second faster than my goal pace. I felt awesome.

It was the perfect confidence booster for MCM. I did an 18-miler just the week before, and a 17-miler two weeks before that. I’ll do around 12 this weekend and push for one more 20-miler October 10 before a three-week taper.

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Maryland Half Marathon –> NCR 20-Miler. Find the differences between these pictures: a hot, humid summer, Β 10-12 lbs, and loads of confidence.

I’ve treated this week similar to a ‘zero week’ (more like a 15 mile week) and taking it easy on my nagging calf. I’ll ramp it up next week and then move into the taper. Next I’ll start thinking about spring races…