Big Hit Half Marathon – Louisville, KY (October 26, 2013)

Me crossing the finish line of the Big Hit Half Marathon - Louisville, Kentucky
Me crossing the finish line of the Big Hit Half Marathon – Louisville, Kentucky

Race: Big Hit Half Marathon

Place: Louisville, Kentucky

Date: October 26, 2013

Time: 1:39:00

Ah…the Big Hit Half Marathon (and Quarter Marathon).  It’s come around again.  This is the third year these two races have run and this is my third year running it.  The only difference this year…I chose to do the Big Hit Half Marathon as opposed to the Big Hit Quarter Marathon that I ran the two years prior.


Because last year when I ran the Quarter Marathon, I placed first in my division.  So, when you conquer one thing…you move to the next, yes?  So…instead of 6.55 miles this year, I opted for the full 13.1 miles in the half.  I was very excited to be changing it up this year and going for the full.  While I absolutely love the Quarter Marathon…I was ready to see the course for the Half.  So, with a Groupon that gave me half off registration, I signed up…treating this as a training run as I’m still in recovery from the Chicago Marathon.

And then…the weather reports came in.

Every day, the Facebook page for the Big Hit Half Marathon posted the temperature at race time…and it would get colder and colder each time.  I was unamused.  Because…I hate running in pants.  But it does get to the point where it’s just stupid to wear shorts.  And when it hits 30 degrees…feels like 29 degrees with the wind…it’s stupid to wear shorts.  Although I had a big debate with myself about this…and on the morning of the race, opted to be smart and put on capris at least.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…as usual.  This tale begins on Friday…at lunch time.  That was when I headed over the river to get to Slugger Field to pick up my packet.  There wasn’t much of an expo for this one.  It was much smaller than the two years previous.  In fact, while there was never a huge expo for the Big Hit…it actually had some vendors the two years prior.  This year…there was a table with the awards…and there was also a table from our local Fleet Feet store.  Other than that…the small space that the packet pick-up was held this year had the tables with the race numbers for bib and t-shirt pick up.  The race bags also contained a few snacks.  So, that was nice.  But, I wasn’t used to the much downplayed for this race.  The Louisville Sports Commission…yes…but not the Big Hit.

But…you can’t judge a race by its expo…or lack thereof.

Anyway…after work that night, I was committed to attending a fun little Halloween party at Louisville’s very own allergy-free bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Café.  Friday happens to be gluten-free pizza night there…and the pizza at Annie May’s is the best when it comes to gluten-free.  We all know, the night before the race is gluten-free pizza night for me.  Keeping the flavors simple, Cathy and I split a gluten-free pizza with Daiya vegan cheese and tomatoes.  Nothing spicy or heavy.  And we each also got one of the gluten-free soft pretzels.  If you are in Louisville in January when Annie May’s brings these back to the weekly rotation…GO AND GET ONE!!  Carbed up…the next plan was to go to the pumpkin walk at Iroquois Park…but we were in costumes…and having fun with that, so instead we went to the mall and walked around.  So much fun.

But…alas…there was a race the next morning…so we needed to get home so I could turn in and get some much needed rest before the race.  I had laid out shorts…being optimistic about the weather.  However, when I woke up the following morning and went to do a temperature check…I knew shorts were not happening.  Nope.  So…out came the capris.

Did I mention that I hate wearing pants?  I was totally not feeling like running that morning.  But…when you pay good money for a race, unless there are extenuating circumstances…you get your ass to that race.  Even if this was being treated as an easy run…since recovery is important…no all-out racing until I recover from Chicago completely…I really, really wasn’t feeling it…at all.  Dressed, I ate my cereal and got my change of clothing and whatever else I might need together.  Cathy eventually got out of bed and downed some breakfast as well.

After some manic morning stuff, as usual, I got pinned up and let it be known to Cathy that I just wasn’t having a good morning.  You know how I mention how amazing I felt at Chicago for the marathon.  Yeah…this was the complete opposite.  Cold weather and I are arch nemesis’…and today…the cold weather was winning.  Especially since the wind was going to pick up and get stronger as the day went on.  That being said, we grabbed the race bag, the sign, some snacks, and I filled my fuel belt (one bottle with water, one with Gatorade), snatched up the pre-race banana…and we were out the door, making the drive to Slugger Field.  That ride was one of the easiest we had going to a race in Louisville.  Honestly.  At least there was that.  We parked in the lot at Slugger Field and went to go inside, only to have signs directing us to the very small area where packet pickup occurred the day before.  This mean…we had to walk around the building, still in the cold, and duck inside.  It wasn’t too crowded…but we got away from those doors and ducked into this middle section.  I immediately went to use one of the flushing toilets in the stadium…and to my surprise…there was no line.  Business taken care of, it was back to shivering and playing the waiting game.  It was cold…so when I finally decided I needed to be stretching…it was my half-assed “I’m too cold to stretch” kind of stretching.  Good times.

Yep.  I’m a wimp.

One of my BlueMile peeps, Kathryn, spotted Cathy and I and we stood around talking.  She was in search of Harry, one of the best people in the world to run with, as she was hoping to run with him during the half marathon.  We hadn’t seen him, but he wandered through shortly thereafter.  Then Terry, another one of my running peeps, stopped by to talk.  He had just been diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his knee, but it was his birthday…and he had a cortisone shot, so he was prepped to give the half marathon a go.  He was also in search of Harry, so when he wandered back through…and went to follow him.  Cathy and Tarry managed to follow him through the crowd of gathering runners.  Somehow, Kathryn and I lost them.  How we lose a girl wearing a blanket is beyond me.  But it happened.  And it took us a bit of time to find them again.  Soon after we did though, the running group peeps joined up.  Tammy, Laura, Mike…it was awesome.

BlueMile representing at the Big Hit Half Marathon!!  We were a cold bunch ready to run!
BlueMile representing at the Big Hit Half Marathon!! We were a cold bunch ready to run!

Although we were all quite warm standing inside the stadium…the start was about 10 minutes away.  We knew it was time to head outside and down to the start line.  So, together we all braved the cold morning air, left the comfort of the inner sanctum of Slugger Field, and stepped out into the wintery air of downtown Louisville.  It wasn’t a long walk to the start line…but it sure was cold.  Cathy and I sort of led the way for the group, but we paused at the start line to take a group shot of those who managed to stick with us.  I finally unzipped my hoodie…so the race bib was visible.  I think that was out of habit, LOL!  Damn you MarathonPhoto!!

And then…we were off to spread out and get to about where we needed to be for the start.  Little purple balloons hovered over the sea of runners doing both the half marathon and the quarter marathon.  I lined up just slightly back from the 1:45 pace balloon.  When I ran Disneyland as a training run, I came in just after 1:42…so I knew this would be a good spot for me to keep me at my training pace.

Some announcements were being made…and I heard Laura and Mike behind me.  Laura spotted Natalie, who we were missing at the start.  She hadn’t been feeling well, but she was here.  So, I went over to give her a good luck hug.  Also found Michael and Patrick with her too.  Okay…everyone was present and accounted for.  That was good.  I sneaked back to where I was for the start, finding Dennis from my Saturday running group…and when the announcements none of us could actually hear were done…we were off.

The wave of runners at the beginning of most races in Louisville is chaos.  While pace groups dotted the start of this race…not everyone really adheres to where they need to be.  I was just doing this for training…so I didn’t care.  I just bobbed and weaved through the sea of people as best I could as we traveled down River Road.  We were sent that way for about half a mile then we were turned around at a traffic cone and sent back the way we came, going by the start line, and clocking in for the first mile.  This year’s course was changed slightly due to the construction going on for the new bridge.  Hence…the wonkiness of the start.  I was feeling good, but I knew I went out fast and was just trying to get ahead of some of the people I was dodging.  So, I eased up…wanting to really abide by my training.  I tucked into a nice spot, about 20 feet behind Tammy and two of her friends.  I remained there up until about Mile 3…when I pushed past.  Tammy was running the Quarter Marathon, so she was halfway there.  I still had 10 miles to go.  As I passed, she said, “Go Karen! Get it!”  I love her!

The thing about the Big Hit Half Marathon and Quarter Marathon is that there isn’t a lot of crowd support happening.  Nope.  It was very desolate throughout much of the race.  Those who volunteered at the aid stations were fantastic…there were even little children who came up with cheers for the runners as they ran by.  That was so good.  But for much of the time on the road…no crowds.  Maybe a pedestrian who was happening by would stop and clap and cheer…but that was it.  It made this half marathon more of a mental game than anything.  I’m used to at least having some crowd support throughout most races…so this was a bit more like a Disney race…just…with even less support than you find during Disney runs.  Because at least when you are in the parks you have a crowd.  We were on the roads…and there wasn’t much going on.  At Mile 5, the courses split.  The Quarter Marathoners went to the left, heading into their last bit of their race, ending at home plate in Slugger Field.  Half Marathon runners went to the right, taking Third Street all the way down to Central Avenue.  We turned around again, with a quick switchback on Central Avenue before hitting Mile 8.

As I was heading back up Third Street, Harry spotted me as he was running the other way.  So did Kathryn soon after that.  And after her…Terry.  All of them shouted my name and we waved and cheered for each other.  I love my running peeps.  I was feeling good as I headed into Mile 9 and 10, so I picked it up a little…hitting a brilliant Mile 11.  I was two miles out.  Still feeling good.  The sun was out…and despite the very strong headwind now, I was having a good run and a good time.  I was actually starting to feel like I was too warm for my liking.  This is what happened at Chicago too.  I really need to figure out my running comfort zone when it comes to temperatures.  Regardless…the last mile was in reach, and as I turned onto Witherspoon, I could see Slugger Field and even hear the announcer in the distance.  LOVED that.

This has always been my favorite part of the Big Hit race.  As you come onto Witherspoon, you turn and run into the back entrance of Slugger Field.  This puts you on the very back out of the outfield, near the wall.  You can see the Finish Line at home plate and you just pick it up, and you run like you just hit a grand slam home run.  You round the corner onto the third base line, and you hit the white cover that is laid out.  You’re almost to the finish.  And for me, I was looking at that clock over the finish line and pushing and pushing and pushing.  I touched home plate…and was done.

I paused my Garmin and received a temporary finisher’s medal.  Yes…temporary.  As I slipped it over my head, I heard, “Karen…let me get a picture!”  I looked at it was the MarathonPhoto photographer I got to know really well during the Louisville Triple Crown of Running this past winter.  So that was awesome!  I posed and then moved on to get the timing chip cut off my shoes.  Cathy was waving my sign at me and I pointed at her and screamed, “PR!!”  It wasn’t planned, but man…I felt so good.  After getting the timing chip removed, I grabbed some of the offered snacks.  I got a granola bar for Cathy, and grabbed a half banana and an slice of orange for myself.  Along with some water.  Then, I made my way up the steps, feeling my knee once again aching, but ignoring that.  I stopped off at the results tent and they printed up my real-time results…and without even looking at them, I went to find where Cathy was camped.

She and Natalie (who ran the Quarter Marathon) were standing there and ready to give me hugs.  I handed the results off to Cathy while I chatted up Natalie about how her race went.  She did amazing.  Even came in first in her age division.  In fact, a lot of my group placed in their divisions for each race.  I didn’t…but I wasn’t aiming to.  All I knew was somehow I managed to clock a new fastest half marathon time.  I didn’t know what it was officially, but it beet Lake Minnetonka…but at least a full minute.  So, after I managed to eat my banana and orange, I asked Cathy for the results and we finally took a look at them.

My official results for the Big Hit Half Marathon are that I finished this 13.1 miles in 1:39:00.  Holy cow!!  And yes…that is my exact time.  LOL!!  A new PR!!  I was so very proud because I wasn’t even aiming for a new PR.  I was just running a comfortable pace and enjoying my run.  Love when magic happens.  I was 57/799 finishers overall.  I was 10/440 females to cross the finish line and touch that home plate.  And…I was 4/92 in my age division.  I couldn’t have been happier with those results.

As much as I wanted to hang out and see my peeps get their awards for their division placements…I was cold and hungry.  We walked Natalie to her car, as we had wrapped her up in the warm Sherpa blanket.  And then…after congratulating her again, we headed to our car to get over to Annie May’s Sweet Café for some post-race food.

I always have a good time running in the Big Hit races.  I was so happy to step up and move to the Half Marathon this year.  I knew I could have rocked that Quarter…but since I needed 12 miles anyway…paced…this was the perfect opportunity to test it out.  I stayed at my race pace the entire time.  And even had negative splits.  Can’t argue with those results.

Oh, and as for the finisher’s medals…it seems that they didn’t ship in time, so they hadn’t received them yet.  As a consolation, the race provided temporary ones that we get to keep and will mail the official ones to us this week.  I thought it was great of them to have medals to supplment for the runners.  They didn’t have to do that, but they did.  And that’s part of what makes this race so amazing.

Big Hit Half Marathon…I do intend to run you again next year.  Thanks for always being awesome.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Chicago, IL (October 13, 2013)

Me at Mile 3 of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon - Chicago, Illinois
Me at Mile 3 of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Chicago, Illinois

Race: Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Place: Chicago, Illinois

Date: October 13, 2013

Time: 3:28:28

I just ran my first marathon!  My first 26.2 miles.  I ran it through 29 neighborhoods in Chicago.  I ran it strong.  I never hit a wall.  I had a plan.  I stuck with it.  And I had some of the best support on the ground I could have ever asked for at a race.  The weather was perfect.  And I, honestly, had the time of my life.

How many people can say that when they’re running 26.2 miles, eh?

But this post doesn’t start at the race.  This post started 18 weeks ago when I not only began a challenging training program, but also took it upon myself to find a sports nutritionist because I wanted to be sure that I got to this race and was able to run this race in the best shape possible…and ready.  There are so many times before where I did so many things wrong…especially when it came to fueling and hydrating during races.  I didn’t want that to happen here.  You only get your first marathon once.  I wanted it to be a good and happy memory.  So, Donna, if you are reading this, all your advice and help really, really paid off.  I listened to you about how to fuel properly for a marathon, how to hydrate properly for a marathon, what to eat, what to avoid, and how to figure out what worked best for me.  Some weeks were better than others…but that’s why we have those 18 weeks of training.  You figure it all out.

So, as the taper kicked in and my mood shifted from runner’s high to evil step-runner mode (I do NOT handle taper well.  Let this be my PSA to all of you), I had to really trust my body and try not to let the mental game of…running less = poor performance get to me.  Mind games.  They happen.  I was very respectful of my taper, doing exactly as my plan called for.  That meant the week leading into my marathon, I didn’t run much.  For three days, I ran 4 miles each morning.  Two of them were at marathon pace.  One was more speed work and pacing related.  Then…two full days off.  No running.  No morning walks.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  Rest the legs.  Get them ready.  I wanted to run so bad during those days…but I didn’t.  I made myself rest.  It was two of the hardest days of my life.

Friday night, my friend Jenn from Ohio rolled into town.  She has been to quite a few of my races and is such a huge support.  She wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to come to Chicago to see me run.  Nope.  So, she headed this way and got in as I was still trying to make myself pack for the race.  I was distracting myself.  With everything.  Including organizing my BondiBand’s by color.  Packing…yeah…focus.  She and Cathy got me on task, and once my running bag and my regular duffel bag were packed with what I could pack that night…the three of us headed out to grab some dinner.

Since it had been way too long since Jenn had come into the area, I had her pick a place where we could eat dinner.  I sent her places that had options for everyone, including me.  And she surprised me when she chose Dakshin, a local and amazing Indian restaurant.  I threw it on the list because I knew it had good food.  Never did I expect Jenn to pick it.  But she did.  And I was proud of her for branching out.  So, we made the drive over to Dakshin and settled in for some crazy-good Indian food.  If you live in Louisville and haven’t tried this place…DO IT!  Since it was only two days to my marathon, I was being extra cautious about my food.  Being a Celiac means being so careful when it comes to eating out.  I wanted carbs and protein…so I ordered the Dal Tadke Wali…which is home style yellow lentils which are tempered with Indian spices.  YUMMY!  It was served with this delicious basmati rice that has coriander seeds and various Indian spices cooked in with it.  Keep that in mind as you scoop it onto your plate…FYI!  Needless to say…the food was delicious and Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines anyway.  I don’t get the authentic stuff often…so this really made me happy.  Cathy, in case you were wondering, chose the Goat Korma…which was apparently spicy.  Jenn went with the safe, but still off the beaten path for her, Tandoori Chicken.  It was spicy for her too.  So, with me being the one who loves spice…I got the mildest meal of all three of us.  Go figure.  Anyway…after our amazing food, we went to celebrate the upcoming race with some ice cream from The Comfy Cow.  I was a Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice scooper.  Hey…marathon training means ice cream.  This was Jenn’s first taste of Comfy Cow ice cream, so she went with the Bonjour Toast offering.  Cathy went with Vermont Maple Walnut.  With full bellies…we headed back to the apartment to settle in for the evening and watch Spirit of the Marathon to get keyed up for Sunday…and followed it up with Marathon Thoughts…which if you haven’t pulled that up on YouTube…shame on you.  Do so now!

We crashed out that evening at a decent time.  The people downstairs were having a party, so sleep wasn’t easy and I didn’t get much of it.  My alarm went off early…because my training plan called for me to do 3 miles or 30 minutes of running that day.  Since we had a drive to Chicago ahead of us, I got out of bed, put on my running clothes, my reflective gear, and headed out to run.  The rest days were good for me…and my legs felt good as I pushed through three very early miles.  I came back and snuck inside so as not to wake anyone yet.  Went to shower and finish packing.  Then, Jenn was up.  And soon Cathy was as well.  We ate a quick breakfast (cereal and some gluten-free French toast sticks…which…eh…) before packing up the car with all of our stuff, a cooler of drinks and snacks, and hit the road to Chicago.  We had to detour around Indianapolis due to Highway 65 being shut down going through downtown, so this tacked on some time.  My friend Heather, like one of my best friends who I have known since third grade!, was in Chicago to see me run.  She flew in from Minnesota for the occasion and texted to let me know she was there and grabbing some breakfast.  We had hoped to get in around 10 a.m.  We got there around 11 a.m.  We met up with Heather at the Hilton Chicago, the host hotel, and the hotel we were staying in for the weekend.  We valeted the car, put our luggage on a cart to be delivered, and I got us checked into the hotel.  We were up on the 8th Floor…which just happened to be the floor where many of the elites were staying.  The luggage would be up shortly, but the four of us headed up to the room.  The first set of keys I was given, didn’t work…so I headed back down to the lobby to get that fixed.  There was a much longer line now and more of a wait.  But, I just let it roll off my back.  These things happen.  No sense getting worked up over it, right?  The key situation was fixed and we got some commemorative keys to boot.  LOVE them.  Back up to the room and my friends were already inside.  I closed myself out just to make sure the keys worked this time.  They did.  And soon after…luggage was delivered.

This is how I know my friends are totally amazing.  The guy bringing in our luggage carried in the famous Donkey sign first, saying the most important thing had to come in first.  He immediately put it up in the window facing the lake.  It made me smile…a lot.  As he was bringing in our bags and cooler, he was asking questions about the race…and I mentioned it was my first marathon.  He said to my friends that they had a long day ahead of them tomorrow…at least a 4 hour or 4-1/2 hour wait for me to come in.  To which, Heather chimes…”Nope.  She’ll run it in 3:30.”  Cathy and Jenn totally ran with that as well and I just nervously laughed.  He asked what my number was because he’d have his eye on me.  So, we told him, tipped him, and he was gone.  With that bit of business taken care of…and bathroom breaks made, we hurried downstairs to 8th Street entrance of the Hilton and got in line for the shuttle buses to take us over to McCormick Place, where the expo was awaiting us.  The first bus that arrived filled up fast…but we got on the next one and soon were on our way to the expo.

Me at the Nike booth at the expo for the Chicago Marathon
Me at the Nike booth at the expo for the Chicago Marathon

Lately, my race expos have been tiny and rather…disappointing.  Utica…was probably the best one I had been to all year…and I’m not counting Disney races in this.  Disney is a monster all its own.  But this expo…was HUGE!!  We walked into McCormick Place and just followed the sea of runners…which guided us to the monstrous exhibit hall where all things running related were happening.  First things first, however…and that was getting my packet.  I headed over to where this BIG sign declared PACKET PICK-UP, and stepped up to this little table where they scanned my participant guide and sent me over to Booth 5 to retrieve my bib number and packet.  I headed that way, and my information was already pulled up and waiting on me.  I was handed my bib, an envelope of information, and told where to go in order to get my race t-shirt.  I grabbed some Chicago Runs For Boston bracelets for me and my friends and went to head to get my t-shirt.  But…got waylaid by this awesome wall where people were able to remove a magnet and sign their name.  We all did it…writing messages and the like…and keeping our magnets as mementos.  Then, we got to battle the crowds.  I was ready…and as we made our way up the first row of exhibitors…I just casually glanced at the booths.  I was hoping to make it out of the expo without spending too much money, so the less time I looked at things, the more likely that was going to happen.  I managed to get up to the tables in the back that had the t-shirts and bags for the participants.  I retrieved mine…and, as I learned my lesson from Disneyland, immediately pulled out the t-shirt to make sure it was a proper fit.  It was.  So now…we were loose to check out the exhibitors and try to make it out with as much of my wallet in tact as possible.

It was a valiant effort…but an ultimate fail in the end.  I found CEP’s booth and picked up some compression sleeves for my friend Natalie.  She wanted the blue ones I wore once to the fun run…and I promised if I spotted them at the expo in Chicago in her size, I would buy them.  Well…it happened.  And they were now hers.  Not far from there was the BondiBand booth.  And my friends and I set out on a mission to find a 26.2 BondiBand.  We found SO many good ones, just not 26.2.  Then…we started finding them…in hideous colors.  With some luck…I found two that were okay.  One in blue with pink numbers, and a red and black one.  I asked my friends which I should get, and since my uniform for the race was red and black…that was what we went with.  I purchased two other BondiBands as well…

Oh…I also got to meet Hal Higdon.  Like…THE Hal Higdon.  How amazing is that? I bought his new book, 4:09:43 – The Boston Marathon Bombings, and was able to have it autographed.  This happened because I get a call from Cathy saying…”I’m standing next to Hal Higdon.  You better get over here!”  And with some direction…yep…it happened.  And I was this little fangirling runner trying not to squee and make a fool of myself.  Because…DUDE…it’s Hal Higdon.  AND while Hal was signing my book, right behind me on the main programming stage…Deena Kastor.  DEENA KASTOR!!  One of my running idles.  I was…in runner heaven, I think.

But…there was much to do that day so lingering too long was not going to be an option.  We were just scraping the surface of the expo.  So…we made our way past booths…in which I ignored the Newton booth…because I couldn’t afford more shoes at the moment as much as I wanted another pair.  We sampled different NUUN flavors.  We tried some protein bars (gluten-free, of course), we walked past Scott Jurek, the vegan ultramarathoner…and I once again had to attempt not to squee!!  I was doing good…not spending any more money…and we were making lots of progress through the expo.

Then, lo and behold, I hear someone calling my name.  It’s Matthew and Dawn, who I run with on Saturday mornings with my group.  They were up in Chicago as spectators, not runners, in this marathon and saw me walk by.  In that mass of people…they spotted me.  We hugged…we talked…they asked how I was feeling.  I said the nerves were gone, now I was just excited.  So…I was already feeling better.  Lots of people I knew were here…they were going to be cheering…it was going to be a good time.  They told me to have my bib scanned at the Nike booth…so I took that advice and headed that way.  Bib scanned and the screen read, “Karen Owns Chicago.”  SWEET!  I was about to leave, after getting a free poster, when I spotted the official merchandise.  No shirts though…but we were directed over to the Nike booth.  UH OH!!  Yeah…might as well have just drained my wallet when I walked in there.  Needless to say…a jacket and a shirt later…I was now leaving the expo…because I was running out of money.

We returned to the Hilton and took things up to the room.  We had a small amount of downtime to sit and chat.  Heather did some foam rolling and I started to get my race outfit out and laid on the table so it was ready for the morning.  We called down to valet after that to have the car brought around because now…it was time to feed our faces.  I had discovered what sounded like an amazing place to get a gluten-free pizza.  The place: Da Luciano Pizza, Pasta and Catering.  It was located in River Grove, so it was about a 20 minute drive.  We got there…went inside…and was asked if anyone needed a gluten-free menu.  I was feeling good about this already.  We were seated and left to look at the menus.  While all the pastas sounded awesome, my pre-race tradition is gluten-free pizza.  I wasn’t changing that up.  Nope.  So, we all placed our orders…and I got my gluten-free pizza with mushrooms, onion, and roasted red peppers.  YUMMY!  Food came out and I devoured my entire pizza and even ordered a gluten-free cannoli for dessert.  That, BTW…was super-duper delish.  The pizza was really good too.  It hit the spot.  And I was now properly fed (carbs!).  We dropped Heather off at a train stop so she could head back to her hotel…and then we were headed back to the Hilton.  We all changed, brushed our teeth, and…climbed into bed around 8:30 p.m.

Da Luciano's Gluten-Free Pizza and Gluten-Free Cannoli
Da Luciano’s Gluten-Free Pizza and Gluten-Free Cannoli

This was early for me.  This never happens.  I always try to get to bed early on race night, but it never seems to work out.  So, I immediately figured that I’d have trouble falling asleep.  WRONG.  I was out.  And I only woke up, briefly, twice during the night with the, “What if I didn’t set my alarm?” panic I always have.  I rested…and rested well.

My alarm went off at 4 a.m. and I snuck out of bed, hoping not to disturb Cathy and Jenn as I fumbled around in the dark, grabbing my outfit for the race and heading into the bathroom.  I dressed.  I did my hair.  I came out as Jenn was heading into the other bathroom.  Cathy finally dragged herself out of bed too.  We all had a quick bite to eat and I was texted by Heather to say she was on her way.  I wasn’t sure cereal would be enough on a marathon race morning, but was told to stick with what I knew.  So that morning, I ate a serving of Chocolate Chex cereal…no milk…slowly and leisurely, as I checked my e-mail and Facebook on my phone.  I had so many people wishing me luck.  Text messages were coming.  And just as I finished eating and went to brush my teeth, Heather texted to say she was at the hotel and heading up.

I got my fuel belt ready with my hydration needs, tucked my GU packets into my skirt pockets…and when Heather arrived…we were all set to head down to the lobby.  And…with perfect timing my friend Cheryl texted to ask if I was at the Hilton.  I said I was and she said her gear check was right there and she wanted to come over and see me.  We made plans to meet in the lobby…which was bustling with runners.  But…she found me.  And we hugged and talked about the race…and took pictures…because that’s what we do.  Time was nearing for me to head to the gate that would take me to my corral.  So…with us each wishing each other luck and telling each other to have a good run…we parted ways.  She was in the 2nd wave of runners to go out…and I was in the 1st.  In fact, my corral, Corral C, was only accessible through Gate #1.  Heather lead the way there…and we just talked a lot about anything but racing.  We even took selfies on her phone while walking.  HA!  We paused at the corner and took photos with each other…rotating through and then crossed the street to Gate #1.  This was as far as they were allowed to go.  The security checkpoint was right there…so…they wished me luck…Jenn sent me off with her usual sayings, which are magic, I swear…and I went to get in line for the no-bag security check.  One more wave…and they were off to find a spot near the start…and I was off to get to my corral.

My friends are awesome - Me and Cheryl; Jenn, Me, and Cathy; Me and Heather
My friends are awesome – Me and Cheryl; Jenn, Me, and Cathy; Me and Heather

It was still dark out, but I just sort of followed the signs to get me to Corral C.  It was a bit of a hike, but not bad.  Not really.  I was clinging to my banana for all it was worth and trying to get the butterflies in my stomach to settle.  Not nervous butterflies.  The excitement was starting to build.  And I was just…wanting to settle in and zen.  So, I found the entrance to my corral, but didn’t go right in.  I stood on the side and did some stretching…some walking…some pacing.  I wanted to be loose.  I wanted to clear my mind.  And the moment I stepped into that corral…I wanted to be focused.  So…I just paced the sidewalk for about 30 minutes, stopping to stretch out my legs every now and again.  At 6:55 a.m., I peeled my banana and sent to get into Corral C.  Security checked my bib number, I entered and moved up to a spot where I remained for the rest of the time.  I ate my banana quicker than I intended to…but I think that was just me needing something to do.  I just hoped it would stick with me long enough to get me to the point I chose to be my first fuel point.  I packed an extra GU pack though, just in case I needed it.  I was taking no chances.  But…I was fine.  The corral filled up quickly.  I had to help the guy behind me start his iPod.  His daughter loaded up a playlist for him, but he had no idea how to work the player.  I helped him out and he thanked me.  I talked to some people around me, making friends, and hearing from others about their experiences with the Chicago Marathon.  Exciting!  The announcer had everyone remove their hats and the National Anthem played.  Runners shed clothes they wore to keep warm, and we all shivered in crisp 45 degree air.  At 7:20 a.m., the wheelchair start headed out.  Then, at 7:21 a.m., the handcycle racers got underway.  It was 7:30 a.m. when the start officially happened…with the elites up front…and the corrals behind them.  We were slowly moved up as each corral was sent off.  It was so comical when those holding the rope to the corral tried to clear out as those of us in Corral C were turned loose to head to the Start.  I stuck to the left of the course, because Cathy said she’d be aiming for the left side of the road…I trotted to the start…crossed the line…and was off.

Chicago Marathon!!

This marathon runs through 29 neighborhoods of Chicago.  It kicks off in Grant Park, which is beautiful, by the way.  I took off from that start line, heading for the underpass we go through.  The crowd was already prominent and loud.  It was awesome.  I started off smiling and I don’t think that grin ever left my face for one moment.  Soon, I found myself in the Streeterville neighborhood, home of the Magnificent Mile, lots of luxury hotels, great shopping district, and Navy Pier.  People were lined up 5 deep on the side of the road, making as much noise as possible…and just being loud.  I wasn’t sure where I was going to see my friends…but I was through the first mile and didn’t see them at all.  Onward.

The Loop was up next…with all the gorgeous architecture it brings to Chicago.  I was heading up LaSalle Street…and just before Mile 3…I see the Donkey sign.  There are Heather, Cathy, and Jenn and they are making some noise!!  I think my smile grew even more.  I waved as I ran by.  Jenn yelled, “RUN DONKEY!  RUN LIKE A PRETTY PONY!”  Um…this is becoming a new mantra I think.  I LOVE that.  It was awesome seeing my friends as I neared the 5K mark.  Pressing on, I entered Near North Side, where the streets were lined with trees, offering some shade from the sun, and residential areas as well.  Then it was into Lincoln Park…then Wrigleyville (yes…Wrigley Field!)…then Lakeview East.  And in Lakeview East…Boystown!  Boystown is the first officially recognized gay village in the United States, and is also the cultural center of one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities in the nation.  This is immediately evident in the race because, aside from the rainbow flags, runners are greeted by a stage full of drag queens.  It was really awesome and definitely a change in the usual mix.  It made me smile!  It was a party right on the course.  This was one of my favorite neighborhoods to run through.  The vibe was awesome.

The different neighborhoods continued…Park West, Old Town…and then…around Mile 12…River North.  What made Mile 12 so damn special was that this was where Cathy and Jenn found me again on the course.  Somehow I missed them.  I didn’t know they were going to be there…but my eyes were always searching that crowd for my friends and my sign.  How I missed it…I don’t know…but they were there and have pictures to prove it.  Regardless…I must have felt them in spirit because I was still going strong!  My friends are awesome.  From there it was through some more of the city’s amazing neighborhoods…West Loop Gate, Greektown, and the West Loop.

I bet you’re wondering where Heather went then.  Well, she already had a place in mind for where she could see me again on the course.  After Mile 3…she hopped a train and found me again right around Mile 14…in front of Soul City Church.  And…WOW…was she loud and cheering as I came through.  I heard her above the roar of everyone else in the crowd.  She wanted to be at Mile 14 because it marked the furthest I had ever gone in an official race.  With 10 half marathons under my belt…13.1 miles has been the standard.  She wanted to see me into that next step.  And she did it with perfect Heather style!!  And even got the pastor of the church to scream right along with her.  What a way to take on the second half!

Near West Side was next…then Little Italy (aka: University Village).  The smell of Italian food was prominent.  And it smelled really good.  From there it was into the Illinois Medical District.  And then, as we come around toward Mile 20…the Pilsen neighborhood.  Mile 20…is usually where The Wall hits.  But I never even hit it.  The Wall was not even a force to be reckoned with.  It was dead to me.  And I powered through this difficult part of the race without even slowing down.  I was feeling good.  My race plan for fuel and hydration was working…and fatigue wasn’t even hitting me.  There was no stopping me…not here.

East Pilsen was next…followed by Chinatown.  I loved Chinatown.  I rounded the corner into this neighborhood and was greeted by a big, silver Chinese Dragon.  The atmosphere was uplifting and awesome.  And the area smelled ethnic and awesome.  And it really made me want Chinese food.  I haven’t had Chinese food in forever due to my food allergies.  I miss it.  A lot.  Chinatown was SO awesome.  The crowd here was massive and loud.  Uplifting for sure!

Which was good because heading into Mile 23 was the hardest to contend with…because the crowds faded as we hit the industrial area.  There was very little crowd support.  It was only for a little over a mile though…the crowds did come back.

Bridgeport was next…then came the turn to “head home” and through the Park Boulevard neighborhood.  It was straight up Michigan Avenue from that point on.  The final 3 miles were upon me.  And this was where I started to slow down.  I felt strong, but the sun was up and the temperature was nearing 70 degrees.  I was hot.  But with only a 5K remaining, I was ready to give it all I had.  Bronzeville…The Gap…South Commons…Prairie District…

At around Mile 26…South Loop and Central Station…where the crowd gave runners a much needed lift as all of us tackled the one hill on the course.  And it was NOT nice having us run up a hill at the very end.  Let me tell you though…they did their job.  I slowed down just slightly as my legs really didn’t want to run up that hill, but the crowd got me there.  And so did my friends, who I heard screaming for me.  This was the last point they could see me at before the finish line.  I was going to reunite with them in the runner reunion area afterwards.  So, they were loud and awesome and I was on my way to the finish.

Me...the marathoner...after the Bank of America Chicago Marathon - Chicago, Illinois
Me…the marathoner…after the Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Chicago, Illinois

The Finish Line came into view and I kept smiling.  I think I was smiling the entire time I was running, but that Finish line just went to show how tough I was…how far I’d come.  It was beautiful.  I gave my final push to cross the line and threw my arms up in victory.  I finished strong.  I finished feeling good.  I got past the photographers and paused my Garmin.  Then…immediately started crying.  I didn’t hurt.  I wasn’t tired.  It was just I had so many doubts coming into this marathon, and then I went and did something extraordinary.  I finished it far faster than I anticipated or even dreamed.  Everything felt like a blur.  I took a few deep breaths and kept moving…getting some water…and then receiving my finisher’s medal.  Bananas…snack boxes…more water…and finisher’s photos…that all followed.  I downed some Gatorade as I moved…then had some water.  I made my way through the finish area toward the runner’s reunion, where I was to meet Cathy, Jenn and Heather under the letter V…because it would be less crowded than the beginning of the alphabet.  I saw the sign…and my friends…and went running toward them.  Cathy came up and gave me a tight hug, immediately telling me my official time.  I cried some more.  I cried more as Heather gave me a hug and then some more when Jenn gave me a hug.  We were just…so happy!  I was so FREAKIN’ happy.  I made sure I drank some more water and I laid down to put my feet up while I called my parents in Birmingham, Alabama to tell them about my race and my finish.  They were so thrilled and proud of me.  I only wish they could have been there to share the moment as well.

After I hung up the phone, I stood up and went to get in line for a stretch and massage.  The line was long, but I knew this would help in the end.  While I was waiting, Cathy went off to see if she could find any official finisher’s gear.  She returned about 10 minutes later (the line hadn’t moved) and handed me a gorgeous red rose and a bear wearing a Chicago 2013 26.2 t-shirt.  Ironically, the bear’s name was Dean, which was a sign…had to be…since the captain of the charity (Action for Healthy Kids) that I was running for is none other than Dean Karnazes.  Eventually, it was my turn for a stretch and massage.  That was the best thing ever.  It helped get those muscles loose.  The therapist working on me mentioned how flexible I was…and I told her it was from years of yoga.  After a good stretching…we decided to make our way back to The Hilton so I could get showered and changed.  My intention, even though I wasn’t sore, was to take a cold shower.  I turned the water on, stuck my hand in…and totally nixed that plan.  I’ve never taken an ice bath or ice shower after a run, why start now?  Especially when I didn’t feel I needed one.  I bounce back really well from long distances on my own.  Never change up the routine.  Anyway…I was clean.  I foam rolled.  It was time to go see some sites around Chicago.

Our plan for the day was to hit up Garrett’s Popcorn for amazing popcorn of awesomesauce.  Cathy promised me a gallon tin of the Cashew Caramel Crisp.  We also got a small bag of the Chicago Mix…because we needed something to snack on.  All of us bought our share of popcorn to enjoy…and we went walking the Miracle Mile.  With Nike being one of the sponsors, they had all the official Finisher’s merchandise.  So after a stop by The Bean…and The Chicago Tribune building…Nike was next.  As we neared the building, employees were out cheering on everyone who was wearing one of the finisher’s medals.  It really made it SO special.  We ducked inside…and Cathy purchased two shirts for me…and Heather put money toward a nice pull-over (in Heather gray).  After that…a walk back to the hotel.  Heather needed to meet up with our friend Janet to go to church and Jenn, Cathy and I were going to grab some dinner.  Instead of the Mexican place we had reservations for that night, we ended up sticking to the hotel and eating at the pub that was connected.  I had a salad.  They had fish and chips.  From there…back up to the room to relax a little while and wait for Heather and Janet.  Because gelato was on the menu for dessert.  Well earned…and dessert is best when done with friends.  I didn’t want the evening to end…but, much like my little cup of gelato…it did.

Sadly, it was time to say goodbye.  Janet was going to get Heather to the airport, as she had to fly back to Minnesota that night.  So, lots of hugs and promises to get together again soon…we parted ways.  I walked Janet and Heather to the elevators and gave hugs and said goodbye…for the time being.  I returned to the room and got changed into pajamas.  Foam rolling was next.  And then…we were all ready to settle in, watch some television, and then get some sleep.

The problem was…I couldn’t fall asleep.  I was tired, but sleep just wasn’t going to come.  So, all night I tossed and turned and watched the clock.  I finally got out of bed…and went to change.  Soon, Jenn woke up and then Cathy.  Cathy and I went to walk a bit around the track at the fitness center before we finished packing everything up and getting ready to check out.  Chicago was a blast…but we had a long drive ahead of us.  So…after a quick jaunt to Caribou Coffee…we had our luggage loaded up, my car brought around…and we hit the road.

I am very, very proud of my accomplishment…and I know a lot of this was made possible by the people who have helped me along the way.  First of all…major huge props, hugs, love, and appreciation go out to my sports nutritionist.  Donna…without your advice, guidance, and all-over support and enthusiasm…I don’t think I would have made it through that distance without hitting The Wall.  As The Wall and I are still perfect strangers…I hope to continue this trend.  You are awesome and I’m so glad we are working together.  Your advice and your help have, definitely, made me a better, stronger, and faster runner.  You helped me develop a plan to go the distance and feel good at the end of said mileage.  Guess what?  It worked!  Tons of praise, love, hugs, and cowbell jingles go out to my family (who couldn’t be in Chicago), my friends, my co-workers, my runners, and the strangers who got me to that finish line.  This has been a long journey…and you’ve seen me through all of the insanity.

To Cathy…who saw me try and fail, try and succeed, rode 18 miles on a bike one Sunday with me to keep me company on a miserably hot day, who has seen me through injuries, seen me struggle, seen me overcome, and just continued to be the best damn crew a runner could ever have.  To Jenn…who coined my new favorite phrase when it comes to running, who always tells me not to pants my poop…and who compels me with the power of Dean…who shares my love of all things chocolate, ice cream, and delicious…and who never judges me when I get up early when I visit and go for crazy long runs.  Even if it’s in the kitchen during a snowstorm.  Next time, I promise not to slam into the island.  And to Heather…who I have known since 3rd grade…and despite your move to Minnesota as we were heading to middle school, kept in touch and still, to this day, is the best damn friend this girl could have asked for.  Your amazing belief in me and my abilities is unstoppable.  You teach me to reach for the stars and go beyond even what I think I am capable of achieving.  Your drive is contagious.  It always has been.

So…my official results of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon are that I finished in a time of 3:28:28.  I am still shocked with my time and blown away by what that time means.  I was 3,897/39,122 finishers overall.  I was the 592/17,527 female to cross the finish line.  And I was 154/3,274 in my division.  You cannot believe how thrilled I am with these results.  I felt so good about this run.  I conserved energy…even though I took that first mile fast.  I knew to ease up and let my body find it’s rhythm and its pace.  I ran strong.  And with that…achieved more than I ever thought possible.  This past week has been dedicated to recovery…although my body hasn’t really felt like it needed it.  Like I said…I bounce back.  This was such an amazing experience.  I never stopped smiling during the race…and it’s been hard to get me to stop smiling since then as well.

I ran this town...and owned it!
I ran this town…and owned it!

Marathon Training Week #15 – Climbing one last mountain before the taper

Marathon Training Week #15
Marathon Training Week #15

Oy!  What a week this has been.  I’ve certainly been keeping myself busy, not just with a new position at work (and getting settled into that…which hasn’t been too difficult, but I had to move my desk and get comfortable in a new area with different people around and new stresses), turning 33, and maintaining my training schedule through a very tiring, very trying week.

When I say tiring…I do mean that I am physically tired.  Perhaps it is a good thing that after my run on Saturday morning the official taper begins.  I said perhaps…because while a lot of runners I know love and truly enjoy their tapers…I get taper madness.  I do not taper well.  At all.  Cutting back on mileage will be a relief to some, but I love being out on those roads.  I know that the taper is an important step to arriving to my race recharged and ready…so I will abide by it.  But I might not be the most pleasant person to be around.

Fair warning.

That being said…with the taper on the horizon this week ushered in my last 20 mile run in my program (which I technically did last week…but I have a pace one in my schedule that I didn’t abide by…meaning I ran the mileage but not at the paces suggested…) so I figured I would at least attempt it.  I might fail.  I might fail hard.  But I’m going to at least make the effort.  If I fail, I dust myself off and try again another time.  Pacing is not my strong point.  I tend to run hard most of the time and have to remind myself to take an easier effort.  This is why running with groups is good for me.  But with the pace requirements on Saturday…I chose to go solo.

But…before I get into that…let’s take a look at this past week’s training…

Sunday morning meant another very early morning for me.  I was meeting with the running group my friend Kelsie runs with on weekends for their long run.  They were doing 18 today.  And after doing 20 on Saturday, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up.  I also had gotten to bed a lot later than planned because I was watching Star Trek: Into Darkness, which was important, you see.  So, the original plan had been to watch the movie and get to bed on time…but…yeah…not so much.  I got up at 3:30 a.m. to lather on the sunscreen (for another dark run!) and eat before hopping in my car and meeting up with the Indiana contingent of the running group at the designated meeting spot.  We all car pooled over to the Kroger near Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville where we met up with the rest of the group.  One runner was only doing half the mileage, so we started out in Iroquois Park.  We ran from the Kroger through the darkness, giving fair warning to the other runners in the group when poles in the running/bike lane cropped up.  No need to have someone collide with that.  YIKES!  We entered the park and started on our way.  Let me tell you…Iroquois Park isn’t really in the best part of Louisville…and it is really creepy in the darkness.  We heard strange noises in the woods, which urged quite a few of us to pick up our pace in the end.  Not being able to see the looming hills of Iroquois, for me, definitely made navigating them easier.  I ran for most of these 18 miles with Lori, who is really great and pushing the pace in the difficult parts.  We left the park and the hills behind and went on to the flatter roads of the city.  Here, we simply ran 4.5 miles straight down a road, then turned around and headed back.  The problem was, we had to change up the route due to one of the roads being one way, so when we got back to Kroger, we still had just under a mile to go.  So, Lori and I decided we would run up the street until we hit 17.5 and then turn around and run back, and when we hit 18…we’d cool down with a walk back to the cars in the parking lot at Kroger.  Alicia, one of the other ladies in the group, is nursing a foot injury of some sort.  She was not looking good at the end of the race, but it seems like taking time off to heal isn’t part of her plan.  YIKES!  I hope she can at least let it heal up so that it won’t be as painful or that she puts herself out of commission.  We runners do some really stupid and silly things in the name of our training…but with me being so close to my race…I err on the side of caution.  Anyway…it was a cool and crisp morning that led into a really great run.  I had a great time.

Monday…always comes too soon.  Another later than usual bed time for me.  This time because I was watching Dr. Who (the Ninth Doctor…in case you were wondering) when my phone rang.  It was my mom…and sometimes we just get to talking and talking and talking…and before I knew it, an entire hour had passed.  And it was beyond my bed time.  SO…my roomie and I shut off the television and I went and crashed out.  Because Monday morning had a 6 mile easy run on the schedule.  I woke up feeling less than refreshed.  On top of that…the 70° weather in the morning returned.  I really had to push myself on this run.  Not only was I tired…but my legs were tired too.  Somehow…and I still don’t know how…I managed some negative splits.  Not bad for running through exhaustion.  And…as we all know by now…Monday is also my Daily Double.  My fun run group meets on Monday…so after having a really easy dinner of grilled cheese…I was out the door and heading to Louisville.  My roomie was driving, thank goodness, because I was falling asleep on the way over.  This is so out of character for me, but I just couldn’t keep my eyes open.  We got to the running store and my friend, Natalie, was talking about how tired she was too.  I told her we could run easy and be the tail end of the group today…which sounded like a plan.  But then, as we ran into Cherokee Park, our Ironman, Patrick, called out…”Hey…let’s do hill repeats!”  Mind you, I have been pushing for hill repeat sessions with the fun run group for awhile and kept getting vetoed.  He said we’d run each hill three times…which meant the hill going up to Hogan’s Fountain and Dog Hill were going to be our hill repeaters.  At first I thought he was kidding, but he said we should do it.  So…about 6 of us started off doing it…while the rest of the group ran on to just do the Scenic Loop.  These are not easy hills to run, and I was wearing my Newtons, wanting to break them in on an easy run.  HA!  Well, no time like the present.  The six of us regrouped at the top, just past Hogan’s Fountain when our first three hill repeats were done.  From there, we took an easy pace through the park on the Scenic Loop, making jokes about running every incline, even the small ones, three times.  We didn’t…but I imagine that would make one really amusing YouTube video.  We grabbed some water at the water fountain and we were already 3 miles in.  I’d be finishing up if I was just doing the loop, but I was only halfway there.  And Dog Hill was, literally, right around the corner.  There were times I felt like bailing, but I never quit on a challenge.  So three times up and down Dog Hill…and I was suddenly feeling very bad ass.  Honestly, these were hard…but I pushed myself through them.  With tired legs and a tired body…I gave it all I had and in the end…I felt like I conquered the world.  It was a light run back to the store, except we only needed .25 more of a mile to hit 6 miles, and I like round numbers.  So…the four of us that remained (the other two bailed on Dog Hill) rounded the corner and ran down an alley until we could turn around and head back to the store.  Another 6 miles on Monday for me.  12 in one day.  Whew.

Tuesday is the Cross Training Day.  And with my marathon coming up, I have been taking it a little easier on the machines.  After all, I refuse to do something stupid that will cost me valuable training time or knock me out of commission for my race.  It is not happening.  So, my early morning at the gym meant that I hit up the Arc Trainer.  Because it’s Arc Trainer Tuesday.  For me, anyway.  This time I set it for Program 8, which is the Cardio program, and kept it at Level 5, which gave me a bunch of different inclines and resistances to work with.  I ended up managing 2.18 miles with the various hills and resistances in 45 minutes.  Not bad.  From there…my least favorite machine…the stationary bike…was next.  I don’t know what it is about the stationary bike, but I hate it.  It bores me.  I think it’s that I’m putting in so much effort and not actually getting anywhere.  The same reason I hate the treadmill (dreadmill).  But I powered through 10 minutes on that bike, which is really all I could stand to be honest, and got in 3.84 miles.  Not bad considering how dead-to-the-world my legs felt.  Went downstairs to do some strength training and then went into work.

Wednesday is my pacing/speed work day.  This one called for an 8 mile tempo run.  I am awful at pacing.  And doing it in the dark when I really can’t make sure I am on pace makes it even more difficult.  I had this inner voice in my head for much of the way telling me that I can’t do it.  I can’t maintain the pace I was holding.  But…I shut them up and pushed through those doubts and proved that I could.  In fact, I ended up doing more negative splits than tempo pace.  Whoops.  But that last mile…I pushed out a sub-7 minute mile and that felt amazing.  It was something I really needed.  So, pacing needs some work…but damn…that felt good.  Later that night, after work, I started a new circuit training routine.  Holy crap…this one had me sweating from the start.  Not easy.  Nice to change it up, but damn.  I knew I’d be feeling that one in the morning.

Thursday was more than just my second easy run of the week.  September 19 also marked my birthday.  This year…I was turning 33.  Ironically, my training plan had a second cross training day in…which I would be doing.  No run was actually scheduled, probably in preparation for the upcoming long run (20 miler) on Saturday.  But…I had to run on my birthday.  Ever since I started running, I’ve run on my birthday.  Since I turned 33, and there was no way I would be running 33 miles and running 33 kilometers would be 20 miles…I didn’t have time for that either.  So…I figured another 6 miles would be perfect…since 3+3=6.  It seemed perfect.  It was 70° that morning, but I didn’t let that get to me.  I refused.  I pushed through and turned out the most beautiful and perfect negative splits.  A great birthday gift to myself, for sure.  After that, I headed to the gym for the cross training.  I ended up on the broken elliptical that day…which doesn’t configure the stride right.  So, while I was probably using more effort trying to match my normal mileage, it wasn’t happening.  In 49 minutes, I managed 8.57 miles.  Ugh.  After that, I moved on to 10 minutes on the Cardio Wave machine…and rocked out 4.14 miles.  I alternated between two of the higher levels.  Then it was downstairs to hit the weights for a bit of strength training before heading to the office for a long day at work.  Trust me though…my Wonder Woman cake that my local allergen-free bakery made for me was consumed greedily that evening after a dinner of gluten-free and vegan grilled cheese (stuffed with kale and tomato, YUM!).

Friday is the rest day.  Ah…the rest day.  The rest day that I said I would respect and keep holy.  I normally go for a walk…but I have these great Newtons I’m working on breaking in and getting used to how they feel…I decided I would, for the second week in a row, take them out for an easy jog.  Nothing hard.  No pushing.  Easy does it.  Just as what happened last year when I wore the Newtons…I actually turned out fantastic mileage.  In fact, I ran a rather quick 2 miles in them, without feeling like I was running.  I decided to cool down then with really easy running…and that actually turned out a faster 2 miles (total of 4 that morning), and it felt like a walk in the park.  In fact, my last mile was, for the second time this week…a sub-7.  I was shocked.  It just didn’t even feel like I was working hard.  But…I ended that session there, despite feeling like I could go on.  I’m easing into the mileage in these because it is working my legs differently and my muscles feel it.  Besides…my last (and third) 20 mile run of my training program.

Me after my epic 24 mile long run!
Me after my epic 24 mile long run!

Saturday morning.  This was it.  The last 20 mile run of my training plan.  After this…the taper would start.  I had skipped the 20 mile intervals in my previous 20 mile run, opting instead to run it with people.  But I know how important pacing and intervals are and I really, really didn’t want to ignore that run.  So…as I was going on my own for my run today…I figured this last 20 miler would be the perfect opportunity to work through it.  I also decided that I needed to simulate race day as much as possible…and that meant running a relatively flat course.  Chicago, after all, is flat.  As much as I didn’t want to do it…I chose to do my run in the flattest area I could think of in Louisville.  Seneca Park.  I also knew that this was going to test me mentally as well as physically.  Why?  First of all, the morning greeted me with rain.  I figured what better way to wrap up my last long run than in the rain.  This meant that I wore my old, heavy, to-big-for-me shoes instead of the ones I am wearing for the marathon.  That sucked…but I figured I wouldn’t let it get me down.  I’d attempt to do the training intervals, but the important thing, mainly, was to get the mileage done.  But…there was more.  You see, the “track” at Seneca Park is basically a 1.2 mile loop.  Yes…I looped the park until I hit my mileage.  My intervals as laid out by my training plan was specific.  I was to run miles 1-8 at my long slow distance pace.  So, I got to the park, walked a little while my Garmin found its satellites, and then was high-fived by Cathy and wished luck.  My long slow distance pace when I am on my own is much quicker than my long slow distance pace when I run with a group.  It’s faster.  And I kept needing to remind myself to ease up and slow down.  The most challenging part was to come.  Before I hit mile 3, Cathy was off to run some errands and head home to get the house prepped for our friend Greg, who was visiting this weekend.  I was on my own in the light rain, in the still-dark morning.  There were large puddles that would cross the track, so I’d have to duck off the pavement and into the muddy grass.  But, hey…I needed to do this.  For the sake of my training.  At mile 8, I turned around and ran the other way on the track.  Miles 9-17 were to be run at marathon pace.  So I picked up my pace for these 9 miles, pushing it more and keeping it as steady as I dared.  My legs were tired from the first 8 miles, which should have been done slower than I ran them.  But I pressed on, and I pushed.  The rain stopped, but I now had some wind to deal with.  And at some points it was me running right into it.  I did my best not to let it phase me, but I was so happy when mile 17 hit.  I once again turned around to run the other way, now in a mind to start the cool down.  Miles 18-20 were to be done again at my long slow distance pace.  What I ended up running was miles 8-24 at my long slow distance pace.  I got so much encouragement from the runners at the park.  They kept saying I was strong.  That I looked good.  I love the running community around here.  You might not even know someone, but you still just give them a thumbs up, a smile, a compliment.  It’s awesome.  I polished up my run, having completed a full 24 miles.  And my time…was fantastic.  I couldn’t believe it when I paused my Garmin at the end of the run.  And I still felt great.  Which was good, because Greg was on his way.  I went home to shower after grabbing some coffee and a snack (I was run-gry) and prepare for his arrival.  And then…after he arrived, we were off for a day in Louisville, starting with gluten-free vegan pizza at Annie May’s Sweet Café, and then shopping.  I ended up buying some DVDs at Half Price Books, but passed on the dress I was going to purchase for my birthday get-together tomorrow.  Priorities…right?  Right.  Anyway…it was a good day.  Here I am over 12 hours later…no ice bath necessary…still feeling amazing.  And badass.

So…there it is.  Now…three weeks until my first marathon…the taper begins.  And I do intend to abide closely to my schedule for the taper because I want my legs to feel strong and rested when I get to Chicago.  I don’t want any doubts in my head on marathon morning. I want all my hard work and effort to pay off in the end, which is why, while I’m sure I will become a raving maniac due to the cut-back on the mileage, I will follow my program as it is laid out.  Because…I feel ready for this.  I am ready for this.  I can’t believe I am saying that.

So…here’s to not giving in too much to taper madness.  This is recovery time.  And I can’t wait to see what I can do in three weeks.  Until then…hang with me…because I’m sure I’ll have some fun taper stories.

Three weeks.


Marathon Training Week #10 – Hitting the first 20 miles

Marathon Training Week #10
Marathon Training Week #10

My training program has me running at least two 20 mile training runs.  Due to upcoming vacations and time spent at a higher altitude…my training schedule got a little bit flip-flopped in the upcoming weeks.  It had to happen. While I don’t doubt I could rock out 20 miles in Boulder, CO or even Denver, CO…I don’t know of any places to rock such a run out in, nor do I know if my body can adjust to that high altitude in order to hit the required paces.  Therefore…I took some liberties with my training schedule and bounced things around.  Never hurts…keeps it interesting.

That being said…this meant that yesterday was my first ever 20 mile run.  Believe me, it can seem a bit daunting.  But I was feeling good that morning.  My legs felt strong.  There was a light breeze…and 20 miles felt like nothing.  Now…how many people can honestly say that.  It was run with Harry and Linda…part of my running group…and I kept it at my Long Slow Distance pace.  I was so surprised with how good I felt at the end of the run itself. I probably could have kept going for a few more miles.  That is the best feeling in the world.  It means I’m training right.  Just the boost of confidence I needed.

This week ushered in some gorgeous morning weather that made my runs really, really enjoyable.  Nothing like waking up in August to 57°F and low humidity.  Loving it.  Seriously loving it.  And what that meant was that I was really feeling good on my running this week.  The difficulty and mileage went up…but I just rolled with it.  I even did good on the extras I’m doing to better myself.  And, I can actually see results.  And that is the most fantastic part.

Let’s take a look at this week…

Sunday ushers in what I like to call my “Whatever My Legs Feel Like” training run day.  I just go until I don’t want to go anymore.  I always keep it under the previous day’s mileage…just normally run it a little harder.  My Long Slow Distance training runs on Saturday help with endurance.  These Sunday runs…they’re a chance for me to see what my legs can do while still recovering from the previous run.  If they aren’t feeling the run, I stop.  It’s that simple.  I did a grueling 17 miles on Saturday in high humidity and rain, testing out new shoes and socks.  There were many breaks on this run, as two of my fellow runners were keeping a more deliberate pace in the distance we were covering.  So, on Sunday, when I headed out, I had no intention of running 14.3 miles…but I did.  I can’t tell you what possessed me to go that long after a hot 17 the day before, but the morning felt good and I got out early in order to beat any of the sun for most of the run.  I stayed off the hills as well, but really enjoyed being out and about.  I clocked my 14.3 miles in 1:51:41…which felt good.  It really did.  I think I was smiling at the end of it.

Monday morning put me back on my revamped training schedule.  I start almost every run these days in the dark, so that doesn’t even factor in now.  Amazing how that happens.  I am missing my earlier light in the morning, but I just strap on my headlamp and reflective gear and get it done.  On the weekdays…that’s the norm for me.  I was out the door at 4 a.m. to log 7 easy miles.  The temperature was in the high 50s, which felt amazing.  But as I was running, my left shin started to bother me.  I was concerned it might be shinsplints, but it turns out I have a bruise on my shin and my compression sleeve was just hugging that area.  Figures.  I managed to get through that 7 miles with negative splits.  And, as always Monday is also the day of the Daily Double…so after work and a quick bite to eat, I was heading down to my running store for the Monday fun run.  There were six of us there, two (Laura & Amy) were heading out to do their run/walk routine on the scenic loop.  So the remaining four of us (Mike, Joe, Ellen and myself) all headed out to run the Scenic Loop at Cherokee Park.  Because my calf muscle on my right leg was being finicky (I blame breaking in new shoes on a 17 mile run) and my shin was bruised and bound again in compression sleeves, I wanted to take this run easy and stick with the group.  And I did.  Up until Ellen stopped for water and said she would catch up.  Mike and I went on ahead…and we ran back to the store.  Ellen never did catch up, but I think Joe stuck with her.  As we were waiting on the light to change to cross over Bardstown Road, Mike said to me, “You’re so fast.  And that’s not a bad thing for a runner.”  It made me feel good!  Honestly.  And as I made some gluten-free chocolate chip cookies as a reward to my fun run group, Ellen said she could have a cookie if she didn’t start walking on Dog Hill.  And she didn’t.  So she got her cookie as a reward.  Another 3.3 miles logged on Monday.

Tuesday, as always, is my cross-training day.  And this Tuesday really was no different from the previous ones.  I resist the urge to go for a run…despite really wanting to do so.  And I hit the gym before work.  This time…I was on the Arc Trainer for 45 minutes, set it for Program 4 – Pike’s Peak.  And I did this at Level 5.  I managed 2.36 miles, which isn’t bad given the changes in incline, resistance, and the intervals that it puts you through.  Afterwards, it was the rowing machine.  I bought gloves to wear when I do this one, which definitely made rowing so much easier.  I have a love/hate relationship with the rowing machine.  It works everything, but it can be just as boring as the stationary bike or treadmill.  I usually end up glancing around at the others on machines…or focusing intently on my form.  Anyway, I managed 1.19 miles in 10 minutes on the rowing machine.  I hit up a few strength machines to help build up some muscle.  After work, it was time to circuit train and that was a challenge after the gym…but it had to happen.  The circuit training felt good to hit up after a long day at the office, even if I really didn’t want to tackle it.  The fact is…I did.

Wednesday was speed work day.  With classes back in session, my track workouts had to move to the treadmill.  BAH!  I hate that blasted machine.  But…when speed work and pacing day comes along, the interval speed work has to be monitored properly.  And this was no easy session either.  I got up early and got to the gym right as it opened.  This morning called for a 1 mile warm up, then 3 x 1600 meters at Marathon Pace with 2 x 800 meters at an easy pace for recovery.  Then I finish it all up with a 1 mile cool down.  I did just as I was instructed and rocked out these 6 miles in 47:21.  Not too shabby.  I kept my warm up and cool down slower than usual to allow my muscles to get warm, and then finally relax.  I ran the marathon pace part slightly faster…and then the easy recovery at an easier than normal easy pace for me.  So, I think in the end it all balanced out.  I felt like a rockstar though when I finished it up.  After work, it was the second day of circuit training.  I’m trying to keep it so my roommate and I blast through the circuits at least 2 times a week.  More if we feel the need.  But twice a week seems to work.  We were both feeling the previous day’s workout so I think this circuit was done a bit easier than the prior day.

Thursday is my crazy-busy workout day.  That morning I got up to log my 7 easy miles, which were, in fact, faster than Monday’s 7 miles.  How I managed that on legs that were tired and sore from speed work and circuit training, I’ll never know.  But…I did in fact manage it.  Maybe it was the amazing 57°F weather that morning.  Maybe I was just feeling good.  I felt like my legs were really having to push on this one, but somehow…negative splits happened again.  That was the confidence I needed going into the gym afterwards.  I pushed through 45 minutes on the elliptical, dialing in 9.13 miles.  Then, the dreaded stationary bike was next…and in 10 minutes I hit it up with 3.89 miles.  So bored.  I was trying to actually take it easy on my run and gym routine, because on this particular Thursday, the BlueMile Brew Mile series was wrapping up with its final race.  Yep.  I was able to make all 5 of them.  Love running races for charity and getting my roomie a free beer at the end of it.  So, this BlueMile Brew Mile was at Against The Grain over by Slugger Field.  It was the sight of the first one that we ran this year too.  Came full circle for sure.  Anyway, I donned my Wonder Woman outfit for this one and we headed out for the mile run.  I even convinced a co-worker of min, Justin, to come out and do it too.  He used to run cross country, so he agreed.  I knew this wouldn’t be my best mile…so I just kept it comfortably hard.  I knocked it out in 6:55, which isn’t too bad.  I’ve had slower and I’ve definitely had faster during this series…but it was fun.  And I lost Justin on the hill coming back up to round to the finish line.  He did manage a sub-8 minute mile though.  Proud of him.  Trying to get him to come out for the Monday runs.

Friday is the dreaded, but necessary, rest day.  As usual, I took myself out for a brisk stroll in the morning.  Why?  Because I need to do something in the morning or I might go insane.  This Friday, I logged a 3 mile walk in 34:42.  Not bad.  I was wearing (or attempting to wear) a fuel belt that Harry brought for me to try, since it had four bottles.  But…it didn’t quite fit me.  BUMMER!!  So, I have a purchase I need to make at the race expo in two weeks at Disneyland.  It was another gorgeous morning in the high 50s.  The walk was just what I needed.

30 foot Statue of David in front of the 21c Museum Hotel
30 foot Statue of David in front of the 21c Museum Hotel

Saturday was the long slow distance pace…for 20 miles.  Not just the furthest distance I have run yet…but also…the first time 20 miles even came into the picture.  Was I nervous?  Not really.  I was pretty stoked to be gearing up my marathon training to hit that 20 mile mark.  It was going to be myself, Harry, and Linda leaving at 6 a.m. on Saturday to hit 20 miles.  But Harry had a route picked out…and, man, was it ever gorgeous.  Linda was running a little more deliberately than I was…so Harry tended to rotate between running with me, then falling back to run with her.  I took to the streets in Louisville, running to the Second Street Bridge…then across it.  Man…that has to be one of my favorite runs ever.  That bridge, when you catch a breeze like I did that morning, just gets you to that happy place.  I wasn’t quite 4 miles in and I felt like I had reached that runner’s high.  It was an amazing run across the bridge.  And when I got to the other side, I waited on Harry and Linda.  When they caught up, we headed to the Falls of the Ohio, then ran the flood wall.  I pulled ahead here, too, running at an easier than normal pace, but taking the lead and running until the yellow line on the trail ended.  I waited for Harry and Linda there.  Harry took Linda and I off the beaten path briefly to show us a log cabin.  Very cool!  We refilled water bottles, then took the path through the parking lots…instead of back out to the road and down a mega-steep hill.  We ran this road all the way out to Hwy 62 in New Albany.  I gave a wave in the direction of my home as we came up to the road and stopped to turn around.  Harry said he was off by a mile so we’d have to make that up somewhere.  I was good with that.  We started back, and instead of turning to immediately head back over the bridge, we hit up Jeffersonville’s river front where lots of restaurants are.  We ran through a neighborhood, just over to the border of Jeff Boat.  And…then…we came back to the normal route.  We refilled water bottles again, then it was time to hit the Second Street Bridge and head back.  Once again, I hit that bridge and every part of me just wanted to GO!  Runner’s high for the second time.  It felt awesome.  I just took off and when I reached the other side, I paused and waited.  Linda was heading back to the store, but Harry and I had about a mile to add on.  So…he took me over to the Statue of David, which stands outside Louisville’s famous 21c Museum Hotel.  This gold statue is 30 feet tall.  Amazing.  We used this as a photo op, then continued to make our way through the streets of Louisville.  When we got back toward Baxter Avenue, Harry told me that if I wanted to take off to do so, as he was running another 20 miles on Sunday, so he needed to conserve some energy.  I took him up on the offer and for the last 2 miles…I ran my pace…my speed…even passed up Linda at one point.  And when all was said and done…I hit 20 miles in 3:01:59.  Not too shabby.  Not bad at all.  And the reward to everyone who ran that Saturday was Paleo Cinnamon Glazed Pumpkin Donuts that I stayed up late and baked.  Everyone complimented me on how delicious they were.  Total and epic win!!  And, despite not really wanting to do so…I did down my Arbonne Chocolate Protein Shake after the run.  My stomach wasn’t wanting it, but I knew my body needed it.  Later that day, I scored a pair of Vibrams for $20 on sale at a local running store.  They were even the ones I wanted.  TOTAL WIN!!  Don’t you worry…I have no intention of ever, EVER, EVER running in these.  I got these to walk around in and build up some strength in my feet.  My podiatrist might have a stroke if he knew I was wearing them…but he’d definitely have a stroke if I ever ran in them.  Not risking tearing my plantar fascia again.  That totally sucked last year.  I stick to the shoes that my feet need when it comes to running.  These…are to hopefully build strength in my tender feet.  We’ll see.  At least if they don’t work out…I’m only out $20 and not the usual price of $100.

Things that I’m learning…I’m craving fruit more and more each day.  I get cases of the RUNchies on runs and definitely on those higher mileage days, get RUNgry.  A lot.  It amazes me how fast my body burns through the fuel I give it while out that long.  I also can tell that these longer, slower runs are helping me with my speed and endurance.  When I focus on speed, I can feel the renewed strength in my legs, and the power.  And I know a lot of that comes from the endurance I’ve built, running easier, running farther, and just…minding my form and everything else.

Already looking forward to seeing what I manage this coming week in my training schedule.  Another flip-flop ahead…but for good reason.  More on that…next week.

My $20 Vibrams!
My $20 Vibrams!

Marathon Training Week #9 – Getting a “Boost”…

Marathon Training Week #9
Marathon Training Week #9

This has been a rather intense week when it has come to my running.  Granted, it was basically an “easier” week for the weekday runs, but the weekend was calling for a 16 miler.  Okay…I’ve done 18 miles already…in intense heat and humidity.  And that…well…it sucked.  It sucked mightily.  So, 16 miles wasn’t daunting at all.  Not really.  And I have a great group of people to run it with.  And I was promised a new route.  So…that was exciting.

But…simply put…I was tired.  The previous week wore me out, basically thanks to Maroon 5 and their show up in Indianapolis last Saturday night.  I missed out on quite a few precious hours of sleep…still hauled myself out of bed and went out for a run on Sunday morning.  Because Sunday morning runs are one of my “me” times.  I don’t go out with any set pace or path…I just go.  And when I’m done…I’m done.

This week was a good one for running, but I think my body is still trying to catch up on rest…and I haven’t had a moment to allow it that luxury.  I have, however, enjoyed a few wonderful moments this week…all centered on running.  Not my training…not really…but the physical runs.  The people I’m with…the things I saw…the experiences this week were what really made everything feel…just right.

And…I can finally pump my fist in the air because I have treated myself to a new pair of running shoes.  I tried on a pair of these at one of my fun runs on Monday night back in March (I think)…when Adidas was visiting the store.  I had one of the best runs ever on a Monday night…and just fell in love with them.  With a gift certificate to Blue Mile and some store credit…I finally decided it was time to treat myself to some shoes I wanted.  So, yesterday…I brought home a pair of Adidas Boost running shoes and a new pair of socks made by Injinji…they are toe socks…and should help with any blistering issues.  I also bought some Watermelon Nuun…but that’s not as exciting.

So…how do I break in new shoes?  On a Saturday 16 miler, of course…in the rain!  They really don’t look new anymore.  Already.  On the first outing.  Welcome to the life of a runner!  Let’s take a look at the week, shall we?

Sunday, as always, is either an easy run day or another day of rest.  I don’t do well with run days, so I usually take this opportunity to rock out a couple of miles.  No set path or direction or distance in mind.  I just run and go where my feet take me, however long they feel like being out there, and on whatever route they choose.  Sunday is “me” time…as I get up early and get out there, trying to beat the heat of the day…the torturous sun…and all that jazz.  This Sunday…however…I decided to match my Saturday mileage.  My legs were feeling good, even after going 13 miles on Saturday with Laura.  So, when I headed out…I only had one goal…and that was to hit some hills.  I ended up running to the local campus and running the parking lots, which are hilly in their own right.  Then…I hit the hills around town…through the community park, and out towards the main drag.  I actually clocked a half marathon (exactly 13.1 miles) when I wound up back at my apartment complex and paused my Garmin.  And it was in 1:44:51…which means I was almost matching the pace of my best half marathon.  I was just 4 minutes off.  So, I was really having a fantastic morning run.  I didn’t feel tired after it either.  Just went inside, hopped in a nice cool shower, then got my roommate up because I was craving gluten-free pancakes.  So, we went out to North End Café where I enjoyed one gluten-free pancake with a side of fruit.  It was just what I needed and wanted.  Shopping followed…and then a sweet treat.  That’s how I roll on Sunday!

Monday Fun Run Group with fresh watermelon after the run.  Yes...I had already devoured mine!
Monday Fun Run Group with fresh watermelon after the run. Yes…I had already devoured mine!

Monday…the runs in the dark return with a vengeance.  Earlier than my weekend morning wake-up calls.  Sometimes it just seems hard to get out of bed.  But not this Monday.  Not really.  My training plan was scaling down in the week as far as my mileage, allowing me to physically get prepared for my longer run on Saturday, I believe.  The weather that morning was ideal.  Just beautiful.  Not humid.  A slight breeze.  I was loving it.  The training plan called for 4 miles…so I didn’t bother to pack something for fuel…I wouldn’t be out long enough to require it or to even necessitate practicing my fueling technique.  Then…I ended up going 5 miles because it just felt good.  I did all of this with fantastic negative splits.  By now you all know that Monday is also the weekly Daily Double…so that evening after work and a quick bite at home, I headed over to Louisville to hit the road with my fun run group.  We hadn’t run the scenic loop in Cherokee Park for awhile, so we chose to do that…but backwards.  There are parts of running the loop that I love to do backwards…but the worst part is right at the end…going up toward Hogan’s Fountain…on this windy, gradual-yet-still-steep climb.  I was with the group at the beginning, but somehow ended up ahead…and remained there for the rest of the run.  In fact, I got back to the store long before others.  I hate when that happens…because I do love running with my group…but it was how it worked.  Natalie, one of the runners I run with often on Monday, supplied the group with fresh watermelon.  And it was DELICIOUS.  Watermelon is something I crave a lot these days after I run.  So this…was fantastic to return to the store and indulge in.

Tuesday is not a running day, but it still brings an early morning.  Tuesday is my cross training day.  And my cross training all takes place at the gym.  And in order to fit in a gym workout without making excuses not to go…I go early.  Really early.  Much to Cathy’s chagrin.  She is not a morning person, but she does rise and shine at least twice a week to hit up the gym.  Tuesday we leave the apartment by 6:15 at the latest and get to the gym by 6:30 a.m.  This Tuesday’s cross training routine was done on two different machines.  The first one is the Arc Trainer, which is sort of an advanced and more difficult version of an elliptical machine.  I set it for Program 3 – Hill Intervals – Level 5 and then hit it.  I managed 2.68 miles in 45 minutes with the changing resistance, incline, and the intervals that it threw at me.  I was feeling awesome about that.  And then, the second machine was a 10 minute workout on the stationary bike.  I HATE the stationary bike.  I think for reasons I hate the treadmill.  I just don’t like putting so much effort forward and not be going anywhere.  UGH!  So, these 10 minutes always feel like torture.  I change the resistance after every minute and just gave it whatever I had left in the tank.  And in 10 minutes, I did manage 3.91 miles.  Then it was downstairs to get some strength training in.  Later that night…20 minutes of yoga to stretch everything out.  I needed it because…

Wednesday morning rolled around.  And by now, we all know that Wednesday means it’s pacing/speed work day.  This week it was asking me for 6 miles with negative splits.  I wasn’t sure this was actually going to happen.  I told my roommate this the night before, as I looked at the weather and saw how steamy and humid it was going to be that morning.  Well, The Weather Channel wasn’t lying.  That morning was heavy, wet air…and I felt like I was just running in MUCK.  Honestly.  It just made the act of running feel that much more difficult.  Somehow, and I still am not sure how, I managed to nail the negative splits that were requested in the training plan.  I still don’t know how I managed…but I did.  That evening, after work, it was 20 minutes of circuit training, which really kicked my ass.

Thursday morning it was back to running easy.  And I was glad for that.  I was feeling “the shred” of the circuit training the day before.  And it was still humid as MUCK out on Thursday morning.  It might even have been muckier than it was on Wednesday morning.  In fact, I can honestly say I do believe it really was.  This morning called for an easy 5 miles, similar to that on Monday.  So, I ran my usual path…then decided…why not throw in a couple of hills.  So, I altered my route and went out on the one I used to run before strange men kept jumping out at me and scaring me.  I had my mace with me…so I felt I could manage this.  It meant no gorgeous negative splits…but the change was what I needed, honestly.  Thursday also took me back to the gym, where I did 9.16 miles on the elliptical in 45 minutes and then kicked out 3.69 miles on the Cardio Wave machine.  I love doing this machine because it manages to work my legs from side-to-side instead of the usual front-to-back motion.  A few strength machines followed.  Then, after work…it was back to the circuit training for the second day that week.  Let me tell you…I almost talked myself out of doing it.  I told my roommate we could either do it that night…or Friday.  She said she didn’t care…so I finally figured that if we didn’t do it Thursday, we wouldn’t hit that second day of it for the week…because Friday we are always busy.  So, I said we’d just do it…and we did.  It was painful…but we did it.  And I’m proud of us for doing so.

My Injinji socks and my Adidas Boost running shoes...treats to myself!
My Injinji socks and my Adidas Boost running shoes…treats to myself!

It was a good call because along came Friday.  Friday is the evil but blessed rest day.  The one day that I literally am not to do anything.  I do my best to respect this day and keep it holy.  I mean…it’s once a week, yes?  Yes.  The only thing is I do allot myself permission to go for an early morning walk.  Just a brisk little walk to take the edge off.  Friday usually means a lot of sitting at the office, trying to get accounts closed and the like…so this walk is good for me.  And I enjoy it.  Honestly.  I did 3.02 miles on Friday morning in 34:23, which is actually really, really brisk.  But I have short legs and honestly walk fast.  It’s just how I am.  The brilliant thing about this Friday was…after coming home and eating a delicious gluten-free pizza for dinner…I went over to my running store…and I treated myself to those shoes I was telling you about at the beginning.  The Adidas Boost.  There was just something about these shoes that I loved…after running in them for 3 miles back in March.  I coveted them from afar…wanting them so badly, but not having the money for the $150 price tag they carried.  But with a gift certificate, some store credit…and really wanting them…Friday…I finally did it.  I just broke down and bought a pair.  And they are bright.  And with them…I got a pair of Injinji toe socks…because I was mentioning how sometimes I can get blisters and I am totally prone to black toenails.  I was told the Injinji socks could certainly help with that.  I figured if I was going to break in new shoes on Saturday, I might as well give new socks a try too.  Purchased.  Done deal.  The Adidas Boost shoes were now mine.  So..what is so great about the Boosts?  It’s all in the design.  Adidas’ Web site says that we, as runners, put a lot of energy into our runs, and the Adidas Energy Boost shoes gives some of it back because they are designed with an energy-return boost midsole, which supposedly keeps every step charged with light, fast, energy.  Adidas Boost shoes are lightweight (8.5 pounds) and bring flexible upper support to the shoes.  Simply put…they feel great and running in them feels great.  And now…they were mine.  And I couldn’t wait to take them out for a spin.  A very, very long spin of 16 miles…Saturday morning.

Saturday means one thing…LONG RUN!  I love my long run days.  I really do.  Getting to run with people.  Doing the long slow distance (LSD).  Talking…about everything, anything, and just enjoying the company for what can otherwise be a very lonely time out on the roads.  I also love these runs because each time I go out with any member of the group who is needing or wanting to do the mileage I am doing…I get shown a new running route.  And today…was a beautiful one.  16 challenging miles…but on a route I had never taken before…but had heard stories about.  This is what the running group has dubbed the “Better Homes and Gardens” route.  And I now understand why.  We met up at 6:30 a.m. and Harry was going to take us on the route.  There were five of us to start, although Laura was on a step-down week, so she was only doing 10 miles.  She figured she’d run out 5 with us, then turn around and come back.  We left the store and started into Cherokee Park.  Laura and I kept the lead all the way through the park, taking the route Harry had planned toward Seneca Park, where we would wait for the other three (Harry, Carrie, and Linda).  We didn’t have to wait long…and we took the opportunity to refill water bottles and get ready for the next 3/4 of the 16 miles we wanted to log.  Laura came out to just over 5 miles with us before turning around to head back.  From there…the four of us set out for the remainder of the “Better Homes and Gardens” run.  First of all…gorgeous neighborhoods!!  STUNNING!!  And…I even got to see deer!!  A mother deer and two fawns.  A fourth one was lurking further back.  Harry and I were leading…and Linda and Carrie were behind us for most of this adventure.  Harry and I would pause at places to allow them to catch up and we’d discuss the next leg of the run…so that we would know where to meet and so on.  As Harry and I rounded a corner, we spotted another deer.  I had to get a picture!!  It was awesome!!  Harry snapped a picture on his phone too.  And then we continued on, pausing when we hit River Road to wait on the rest of our crew.  We never leave runners behind.  When the caught up, we ran through a park and then back out onto the road.  To make sure we hit mileage, Harry took us up to the Water Tower.  It was a beautiful detour.  And then we hit the road to head back toward our final destination.  Not wanting to hit the hill on Zorn Avenue, we went a different way to The Three Bears.  Now, I have heard many runners in the group talk about The Three Bears…but I was finally going to see them for myself.  And as Harry and I were first to arrive, he even snapped a picture of me with them.  I had to dance with them.  Just up the hill was an ivy-covered bunny…so we walked up there while we waited for our running partners…and I got a picture with that as well.  From there…it was a short stint on a trail…then back onto the roads and a few turns more before we arrived back at the store.  Of course…with about 5 miles left to go, the rain decided it didn’t want to hold off any longer…and so…it started to fall.  And it felt great.  I mean, I really needed it.  The humidity was awful in the morning…so this was nature’s very own air conditioning.  I welcomed it.  I didn’t have a hat with me though, so I was doing all I could to not get rain in my eyes.  It lightened up soon after…and with another opportunity to show me something I normally don’t see…Harry took me up to the reservoir where all of Louisville’s water goes through before heading out into the city.  It was AWESOME!  From there, he and I made the final dash toward the coffee house where all the other runners who left earlier or even later were meeting and enjoying the Gluten-Free Almond Peach Muffins I baked on Friday night for them.  The rain was falling again, but we waited for Linda and Carrie to make it back.  The actual run that morning was 17.02 miles…so…once again I went the extra mile.  But it was a fun, beautiful run.  And I loved the company and the sights I was able to see.

Scenes from my Saturday morning 17 mile long run
Scenes from my Saturday morning 17 mile long run

I am already gearing up for next Saturday, which is ushering in what will be my longest run to date.  I am totally looking forward to that challenge.  Now…I’m going to hit up the foam roller because my calf muscles are definitely reminding me that I road tested new shoes for 16 miles today.  Biofreeze might be my friend tonight as well.  No matter…I had a hell of a great run today and I’m still smiling from the high I felt while out there on the road…doing what I love…with people who share that same passion for running.  Sore calf muscles and all!!  Also…I need to carry more bottles with me.  My two 6 ounce bottles are definitely not cutting it in the humid, hot weather.  Good thing we had water fountains along the way.  But my Nuun was gone before I was even halfway through the run today.  Electrolytes are my friend as I tend to sweat out salt…so…this will be remedied.  Oh yes…yes it will.

It just means I might need to invest in a little more retail therapy…

Marathon Training Week #7 – Cooling off and going long…er…

Marathon Training Week #7
Marathon Training Week #7

It’s July, right?  Right?  Because this week, save for the very beginning, brought about less humidity and cooler temperatures.  This has definitely boosted my confidence in my training and my running.  I don’t feel like I’m out of breath.  I don’t feel like I’m drowning in sweat (even if it is liquid awesome).  I don’t feel tired as quickly.  Mother Nature somehow brought me my confidence back with the much cooler, much more running-friendly weather this week.

After last week, this was a welcome change.  Especially with the long runs (yes…runs!) I had planned for this weekend.  Sweet, sweet relief.  And, to make it even better (who am I and what did I do with my former self?)…on Saturday my running group got poured on.  It was amazing.  It felt great.  It made me smile…even if I was getting poured on.  It didn’t last long…but it was nice to splash through the puddles and feel all badass for hitting that pavement in a drenching downpour.

This was a “scale-back” week for me in terms of mileage during the week.  But my long run this weekend was supposed to be longer than last week’s.  Last week I extended my long run to comply with my friend Matthew’s…so, this was technically a scale back as well.  I was okay with that.  These are important weeks for the body…because with the scale back…the following week brings back the higher mileage and now your body is ready to handle it.

But then…a second long run happened.  Because when a friend invites you to join her group for a refreshing, early, early morning long run on Sunday…you go.  It was fantastic.  I met a new group of wonderful people and I had a chance to really chat up Kelsie and we discussed our training…our hopes for our marathons…fundraising problems…and…clothing/shoes, etc.

This week…was the kind of week I needed.

Sunday is normally my easy run or rest day.  My roommate and I had a house guest this weekend, but I felt I needed to stretch my legs out.  After Saturday’s rough 18 mile run in extreme heat and humidity, then a lot of riding in a car…followed by sitting on a hard cement floor at a very fun roller derby bout…followed by more car riding…the run was a relief and gave these legs a chance to simply S-T-R-E-T-C-H out.  I choose to run hills though…which still doesn’t make sense now that I look back.  But, it seemed to be what my legs needed.  I could feel the strength returning to them with each hill that I powered up, despite having some residual aches and pains.  I took it easy, though…as that stifling humidity was still lingering.  It was all about pacing myself and keeping myself hydrated and fueled properly.  After the run, I showered, changed, and headed out to meet up with my sports nutritionist again.  This time we went over loss of sodium in these sort of conditions and what that means…how to fuel properly for that…what I’ve been doing right…what I need to improve on…and the like.  It was a brilliant meeting and I walked out of there feeling so much better about things.  Remember all those harsh comments about my body?  Well, she told me I looked healthier now than I did when we first met.  And that I should pay no attention to the negative people firing these comments at me.  She said simply…believe it or not…I am built like a runner.  Lean muscle.  And the people who said those things have no idea what they are talking about.  Her job was to make judgment calls about her clients based on looks as well and she said I looked healthy.  Then we hugged.  I needed that.

Monday morning took me back out into the wee dark hours before most people are even out of bed.  The air felt so heavy, humid, and wet that morning.  I did, however, get rained on for one glorious mile.  I think I smiled then.  It just felt better and easier.  It happened right in the middle of my 5 easy run…and it was a blessing.  Until it stopped.  And all I wanted after that was it to rain down on me a little more.  It was so refreshing.  But, alas…the rain was gone for the time being.  I did rock out negative splits, however!  Always a good thing.  Being Monday, that also meant it was my Daily Double…so I headed out to my running store’s fun run and we all ran with Natalie again, whose arm is feeling better, but her hamstring is dealing her fits.  We let her set the pace and we ran for three miles, winding up back at the store.  It was a hot, hot day for running.

Tuesday is the usual cross training day.  This week I was scheduled for 40-50 minutes of cross training.  That’s rather normal on Tuesdays now.  The only difference this week was that Cathy was left at home, having had her last wisdom tooth extracted on Monday afternoon.  All alone at the gym.  I got on the Arc Trainer for 45 minutes, using the Program 1 setting on Level 5, and managed 2.78 with various intervals, resistance, and inclines.  It was challenging.  Then, to finish it up, I got on the rowing machine for 10 minutes worked my core and upper body to the max, pushing for 1.19 miles.  I hit up a few strength machines before calling it a day.  That night…yoga to stretch everything out.

Wednesday is my speed work or pacing day and this week called for 5 miles of speed work.  This was supposed to be done at the track, however, Cathy was still out of commission and I wasn’t going to head off to the track alone while it was still dark out.  I do a lot of crazy things, but safety is always first and I didn’t feel safe going off on my own.  So, I decided I would have to dreadmill the speed work this time and make sure I hit up the track next time it came up in the schedule.  That was the deal I made with myself and with Cathy.   So, I hit the gym and set the treadmill for an easy 7 mph pace for my first mile to get warmed up.  Then I dug into 4 x 800 meters at 8 mph with 4 x 400 meters at 7.5 mph for recovery.  My last mile was back down to the 7 mph pace to cool down.  When I finished, I actually felt like I was too easy on the speed work and should push a little harder next time.  So, that’s my goal.  I tend to go easier than I normally run on a treadmill.  I don’t know why.  Most people are the opposite.  Go figure.

Thursday morning dawned and brought about my final 5 mile easy run of the week.  It was a gorgeous 60 degree morning.  And I loved it.  I had a bit of a twinge in my hip that morning, but I stretched really well and it went away.  And the entire time I was running nothing bothered me at all.  I polished off that run like it was nothing, no twinges after that or anything.  So whatever it was just required a bit of stretching.  And…once again I managed negative splits.  It was the kind of run I needed.  That was also my second day of the week to hit up the gym and I managed to get 9.18 miles in on the elliptical in 49 minutes.  Then rocked out 3.89 miles on the stationary bike.  I felt really good about how I did on those, but my legs were really feeling it all that day.  So, after hitting up some strength machines and heading to work, I made sure I stretched it all out that night with some soothing yoga.

Friday naturally meant it was the rest day that I never like taking, but have promised to respect it and keep it holy.  Which I do.  I don’t run or hit the gym or do anything at home.  I did, however, take myself for an early morning walk.  I managed 2.5 miles in 30 minutes, so that wasn’t too bad.  I tend to be a fast walker with these short legs.  Next time, I might have to slow it down some.  I just get lost in my thoughts and don’t even realize it.  But, the rest of the day it was rest, rest, rest because Saturday was coming and that meant…the long run…

Saturday is long run training day.  Run long at an easy pace.  This week, most people were going for the mileage my training plan called for, which was 15 miles at the Long Slow Distance pace.  I met up with my running group earlier than normal, at 6:00 a.m.  We hit the road, heading toward one of the parks and overshooting it to get to 8 miles…so that when we turned around…we wouldn’t have to run the worst part of Eastern Parkway here in Louisville near the end.  Instead, we would take that at a deliberate walk to cool down.  Now…on Friday I accidentally got hit with a case of accidental glutenization.  Let’s just say…stupid mistake led to major stomach issues.  So, I was a bit nervous about Saturday morning.  But I managed to rock out the run.  Matthew and I were having a much better run this week…and for the first couple of miles, we ran with the rest of the 6 a.m. group.  But, then…for the remainder, it was just us…until we turned around and met up with them again.  We stopped to talk for a moment, but then decided to head back to the store.  They told us to go ahead…because no one likes to get passed.  Matthew and I went on…and polished off the run, cooling down just as planned with a brisk walk toward the coffee shop.  I had baked up some gluten-free rosemary cheddar biscuits and some gluten-free/dairy-free/sugar-free banana oat cookie bites for everyone, and Cathy was at the coffee shop, generously handing them out for me.  We settled in to talk for a little while, then we excused ourselves because we were both starving and were ready to hit up my favorite Saturday breakfast spot – Annie May’s Sweet Café – for their gluten-free/vegan sausage and “cheese” breakfast sandwich.  I was pretty much on the go the rest of the day…finishing up grocery shopping and just hitting the malls to keep on moving.  Eventually, as the day went on, my stomach started to feel better.  I’m still not 100%, but at least I proved I had it in me to go the distance regardless.  I feel strong.

It turned out to be a fantastic week for running, once the weather changed and the humidity lifted.  I mentioned a second long run this weekend, which I rocked out at 5:30 a.m. this morning with my Virgo-in-arms and friend, Kelsie.  But…that will have to wait for next week’s blog.

I started the week on a high note, with a good, hill run and a great meeting with my sports nutritionist.  Then I polished it off with great running weather for my scheduled long run.  Life has been good to me this week.  And I am pleased to see that the nicer weather is staying this coming week.  See this smile…yeah…it’s been awhile.

See you next week!